Remarks of Michelle Bachelet at the senior women dialogue dinner in Addis Ababa


Remarks of Michelle Bachelet at the senior women dialogue dinner in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 26 January 2013.

[Check against delivery]

Honourable Ambassadors,
UN colleagues,

It is wonderful to be here with all of you tonight. I would like to thank you very much for your strong support to one of the greatest causes of this 21st century – gender equality and the empowerment of women.

It has now been two years since UN Women became operational. I have good news. We have come a long way. Women’s issues are world issues. Awareness is ever rising and indifference has become unacceptable.

We could not have come this far without partners like you. I thank you for your conviction, commitment and courage.

Together we are making real progress in advancing our five priorities at UN Women. These priorities that we share are:

  • To advance women’s political participation and leadership,
  • To expand women’s economic empowerment,
  • To end violence against women and girls,
  • To increase women’s participation and decision-making in peacemaking and peacebuilding, and
  • To support national plans and budgets to advance gender equality.

We are gathered here tonight to engage in a dialogue. A dialogue to define the role that UN Women should play in supporting the vital work that you are doing and strengthen the integration of gender equality at the AU, within the framework of the African Renaissance.

This is especially important with regard to peace and security. I just came back from Mali and let me tell you. There can be no peace, no democracy or development that is sustainable unless women and men enjoy full and equal rights, opportunities and participation.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the African Union on its 50th anniversary, and for having elected the first woman as Chairperson of the African Union Commission! This important milestone testifies to our determination and our wisdom that we will make greater progress for women when we have more women in power.

As Dr. Zuma said in her New Year statement, “Women constitute more than 50 percent of the continent’s population and their engagement in all spheres of human endeavor is imperative.”
Imperative it is.

And it is up to all of us and all of our partners to use the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the African Union to create a union that not only promotes, but actually prioritizes, the achievement of gender equality.

I know that the AU Commission aims to achieve 50-50 parity in its employment structures, to ensure that women attain decision-making positions, and to advocate for women’s development across the continent on the platform of the African Women’s Decade.

I would like to submit to all of you that we go forward with a unified voice, taking advantage of the AU’s 50th anniversary, to call for 50-50 parity in Africa’s parliaments, and in government cabinets, as a goal for 2050.

Now I know that this is ambitious, and some might even say audacious, but in order to achieve real equality, we must go forward with a strong voice and with a strong vision that propels us to a better future.

A vision of a world where boys and girls have equal rights and opportunities, a world where violence and discrimination against women and girls is neither common nor acceptable.

A world where women and girls are treated with respect and can live their lives in dignity, able to exercise their human rights to which they are fully entitled.

A world where men and women and boys and girls enjoy equal participation and decision-making.

Yes, we have come a long way together. Africa is taking steps every day towards gender equality. But we still have a long way to go and we will make greater progress by joining hands, expanding our alliances, and by working together.

All of us at UN Women fully acknowledge and appreciate the progress being made by all of you and many others on this great continent for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

We applaud the progress being made in Africa to increase the percentage of women in parliament and in government. Africa now has two women Presidents, in Liberia and Malawi. And sub-Saharan Africa has a higher percentage of women in parliament than Asia, and many countries, including the United States and Japan.

This year in May, Algeria became the first and only country in the Arab region where women hold more than 30 per cent of its parliamentary seats. Prior to the election, women held only 8 percent of seats in parliament.

In July, Senegal almost reached gender parity in Parliament, when women were elected in record numbers into the country’s National Assembly. Women now occupy 43 percent of Senegal’s 150 seats in Parliament, almost double the number of women MPs in its outgoing Parliament. This was thanks to a special measure stipulating that half of all candidates must be women.

Similar quotas have been passed in many African nations. Rwanda is number one in the world, with 56 percent of seats in Parliament held by women. This shift in power has a potentially large payoff. The very presence of female politicians has been shown to diversify the policy agenda and promote equity and justice.

There seems to be an understanding and appreciation that an African Renaissance requires a leading role for women.

Last August, Somalia adopted a new constitution, that among other gains for women, includes a ban on female genital mutilation. I congratulate Africa for sponsoring the first resolution adopted in the United Nations General Assembly this past December to ban female genital mutilation worldwide.

We need stronger action to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women. That is why I have called on all Heads of State and Governments worldwide, as part of the UNiTE campaign, to make strong commitments to end violence against women and girls in the lead-up to the upcoming session in March of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

I thank you for your unified voice and commitment. So far 16 countries have committed and one of them is Togo, the only African country to do so. Let’s work together to try to get every nation in Africa to make a strong public commitment to end violence against women.

Together we are making progress and we will continue to move forward. I would like to acknowledge the good work done by many of you to include women’s concerns in processes for peace and security, such as in South Sudan and in Somalia.

You are not only Ambassadors to the African Union, and you are Ambassadors for Women and Gender Equality. Again I thank you for all that you do and I want you to know that UN Women stands beside you. We look forward to strengthened partnership and collaboration.

I therefore invite you to share your priorities of the support you need from UN Women.

And I invite you to share your perspectives on how gender equality and women’s empowerment can be brought to the center of the African Union’s dialogue and action on Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance.

I look forward to hearing your views and to working together.