Michelle Bachelet opening remarks at global consultation on addressing inequalities in the post-2015 development agenda

Date: Tuesday, February 19, 2013

UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, opening remarks at global consultation on addressing inequalities in the post-2015 development agenda. Copenhagen, Denmark. 19 February 2013.

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Good morning, Your Highness Crown Princess, fellow panelists, distinguished participants, Excellencies. This is a very  important meeting.

My thanks go to the Governments of Denmark and Ghana for getting us together. Inequalities are and will continue to be the main challenge of our century.

In Latin America, with our founding fathers, inequality was in the center, this is nothing new. Time has run out to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the potentially disruptive impact that growing inequalities present to people, communities, our societies, our planet, and a peaceful and sustainable future.

I am very pleased we are going to be able to share the final report of the addressing inequalities consultations, co-led by UN Women and UNICEF.

This is just one of eleven being conducted under the co-leadership of UN agencies as part of the post 2015 consultations.

This report reflects an extensive global public consultation, held from September 2012 to January 2013, and is both the outcome of our engagement with multiple stakeholders through e-discussions, as well as the synthesis of 176 papers submitted to the consultation.

These ongoing consultations with civil society, with women’s rights organizations and with individuals from all over the world are a must and should not be a one-time effort.

We are talking about inequalities, therefore dialogue and inclusion must be at the centre of addressing them. Engaging people in development is not a procedural formality, it is our collective duty.

If we do not listen and work with people, we cannot shape, let alone, implement a new development agenda. People are not beneficiaries, they are partners in development.

And I am here to say  that now is the time to listen to the voices of women, to fully engage women, and to make women’s empowerment and gender equality a priority in the post-2015 global development agenda.

This is vital not because I am the Executive Director of UN Women, but because women continue to face discrimination in access to education, work and economic assets, and participation in governments, local and  national.

Violence against women continues to undermine efforts to reach all goals. So, clearly progress to 2015 and beyond will largely depend on success in tackling structural inequalities, ending violence and discrimination against women and girls, and promoting justice and equality.

Moving forward, we need a framework that is universal, founded in the principles of human rights, inclusion, equality and sustainability.

By now we have sufficient evidence that shows that promoting gender equality is a must to alleviate poverty, reduce disadvantage and drive progress on all of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

After a century of progress and change, it is clear that in societies with more gender equality, democracy is stronger, economies are more developed and peace is a priority.

Yet to this day, the most blatant discrimination and abuse is still against women. While women constitute over half of humanity, they are far from enjoying equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation and leadership with men. And this exclusion, this discrimination and this violence based on gender, is one of the biggest obstacles that we face in advancing sustainable development.

One very important lesson we have learned from the MDGs is that our focus on numbers and averages- which are also important- distracted us from addressing the deeper, structural causes triggering poverty and inequality.

Now we have a real opportunity that we must seize, to tackle the deeply entrenched cultural and social norms and discriminatory laws, practices, and policies that hold back women and girls from reaching their full potential and contributing to a better world for all.

If we look at just two MDGs, MDG3 to promote gender equality and MDG5 to improve maternal health, we get a clearer picture of how we need to move forward.

Let us start with the target to eliminate gender disparity in education by 2015. In too many countries, girls continue to be left behind. Last night the Crown Princess has mentioned  the importance of educating girls.

While there have been successes in primary education, adolescent girls are especially at risk of not finishing secondary school. Many factors contribute to these high drop-out rates for girls.

These include cultural practices in families and society that impose constraints on girls’ secondary education; domestic responsibilities to do the chores and care-taking; a preference to educate sons; and pressure on girls for early marriage.  As a result, only 62 of 168 countries are expected to reach gender parity in secondary education by 2015.

Anthony Lake mentioned in his remarks the importance of a mother’s education for the survival of her children. We have learned that the crucial right to education can only be achieved by promoting and protecting girls’ human rights across the board.

In other words, it is not enough to focus on just getting more girls in school; we must also tackle the underlying social and economic challenges that are ultimately keeping girls out of school. We must get to the roots of discrimination and expand equal rights and opportunities.

The disparities in maternal mortality rates present another striking example of gender inequality. While maternal deaths have declined in the last decade by 47 percent, it was mentioned last night that 800 women continue to die every day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and 85 percent of these deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

Of all the MDGs, the least progress has been on MDG5, to improve maternal health. In fact, there is a graph that speaks volumes to this lack of progress. It shows global health funding over the past decade going up and up, while funding for sexual and reproductive health remains flat and virtually stagnant.

Analyses also show the large disparities that exist in access to reproductive health services.  Access to contraceptives and skilled attendance at childbirth differs dramatically between wealthy women in urban areas and poor women living in rural areas.  The same is true for wealthy women in rural areas, and poor women in urban areas.

And we know that as a group, it is young women who have the least access to these services, which is one of the main reasons why the number one killer of 15-19 year-old girls worldwide, is complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

We have learned that reducing maternal mortality is possible in every region, and greater progress can be made if every woman can exercise her right to health, including the right to sexual and reproductive health, regardless of her age, income, ethnicity, or location.

It is time to make woman’s right to health throughout the life-cycle a global development priority. As a pediatrician, I would add that we must  put a strong effort on stopping  child marriage.

This brings me to what I see as critical to future efforts. I would like to make three key points.

First, the state has a key role and responsibility to advance gender equality and end discrimination and violence against women and girls through laws, policies and programmes. States should make this an absolute priority. If I may add, every country can deal with inequalities in their own way. But what is essential is the political will; how effectively states can tackle inequalities  depends on political will.

No country can advance inclusive growth and equality without protecting the human rights of girls and women to live free of violence and discrimination. It will take the full support of governments and the authority of the law to protect the hard-fought gains of men and women around the world- men and women who have worked and continue to work tirelessly, to bring about changes in cultural norms and social attitudes in their societies.

Second, to achieve true inclusion and equality, we must focus on the factors that place limits on women’s participation in public life and actively promote equal opportunities for women in the public and private sectors.

These include proactive measures to account for unpaid care work; to ensure women’s equal access to resources, assets and decent jobs; and to institute temporary special measures, such as quotas to place women in positions of decision-making, such as parliament and on corporate boards.

Third, states should institute a social protection floor, below which no person can fall. Every person has the right to basic income security and universal access to essential social services such as health, water and sanitation, education, and food security. I want to complement what Anthony Lake has mentioned, this is not only for people; economies benefit from healthier, better prepared, and more equal societies.

Leaving behind the poorest, the most marginalized is not an option for societies in which every person has the right to live up to his or her potential.

The post-2015 agenda will have to rely on a new social contract between states and citizens, which prioritizes inclusion, equality, and democratic participation.

Let me also add, dealing with inequalities is not only about what we do in our separate countries. We live in a world that is unequal. When we have unfair trade, we cannot improve the lives of small farmers even though we provide them with the best seeds. We need to deal with inequality at the global governance system level  to ensure that inequalities are tackled.

To achieve success in a new global development agenda, we need a unifying development goal on gender equality as a cross-cutting priority.

We need to work together to deliver on the promise of more equitable, inclusive, peaceful and sustainable societies for all. Nothing more and nothing less.

Thank you.