Speech by Michelle Bachelet at the 5th Annual Women’s Empowerment Principles Event


Speech by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the 5th Annual Women’s Empowerment Principles Event, in New York on 6 March, 2013.

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Good morning, Excellencies, honoured guests, colleagues and friends, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank Deloitte and Mr. Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact Office, for hosting us today.

I am delighted to join you this morning as we kick off the 5th Annual Women’s Empowerment Principles Event: Equality Means Business. Each year, this event takes place during the celebrations of International Women’s Day, which is Friday.

During this time, women and men around the globe participate in events that honour women’s gifts and talents, our energy and experience, our strength and our spirit. And our continued struggle for full and complete human rights.

From Costa Rica to the Czech Republic, from Afghanistan to Australia, and from Germany to Great Britain, all around the world, women are gathering. They are hosting plays and poetry readings, blog contests and dance-a-thons, concerts and discussions. They are standing up for peace, walking for equality and running marathons for empowerment.

In Johannesburg this Friday, hundreds of drummers will meet on the Rissik Street Bridge to boldly proclaim their message: “The Only Thing You Should Beat is a Drum.” Passersby will be invited to drum their outrage and activism against violence toward women and children.

We are doing great things and we are not alone.

Just east of where we are meeting today, the United Nations, as part of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women, is conducting similar conversations about action to end violence against women.

I like to emphasize the word “action”, and I like to highlight the absolutely essential role of civil society organizations around the world that have taken action to drive violence against women to the very top of the agenda.

We have broken the silence. And we realize, at the last, that a violation of one person’s human rights, of women’s rights, is a violation for all.

So, more and more we —men and women— are coming together as partners to confront such violations. We work with governments, civil society and the private sector to redress the underlying biases and social norms that permit women and girls to be treated less well than men and boys.

The individuals, organizations and businesses represented here and through the Women’s Empowerment Principles globally are also our valuable partners.

No longer do we have isolated parallel conversations about problems and solutions. Now we share and contribute to common platforms .One of these platforms is the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a partnership between UN Women and the UN Global Compact.

Using these seven principles, business, civil society and academia can confront stubborn issues of inequality and promote creative solutions, inclusion and systemic change.

It is both exciting and encouraging to see that more than 500 CEOs have signed on to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, and this list continues to grow. And it is even more gratifying to learn about the concrete actions these companies are taking to promote gender equality, health and safety, and education and training for women in the workplace, in the marketplace and in the community.

So it is my pleasure to spotlight some of those good practices. They can teach, inspire and be replicated by others seeking to demonstrate their own commitment to the human rights and well-being of all.

A global IT company based in India, for example, established a zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment in the workplace. If an incident does occur, there’s a “whistle blower” policy that protects sources and a committee that quickly reviews and acts on grievances.

Another technology company offers women’s self-defense classes on campus and special transportation, including a security guard if necessary, to make sure women reach home safely on days when they work late.

A power company in Brazil has created a shelter for women survivors of domestic violence, along with a referral and information support center.

An Asian company demonstrates its commitment to the rights of girls through a “Save the Girl Child” initiative, which provides pregnant women with information about healthy pregnancy, safe delivery and infant care. It also addresses the issue of female feticide by sending clear messages that girls matter.

A Kenyan communications company provides free on-site day-care, private facilities for breastfeeding and an in-house physician.

Two Spanish companies offer survivors of domestic violence job placement services designed to ease their transition back into the workforce.

And a U.S.-based digital media company understands the important link between women and the use of technology in promoting freedom and empowerment. And so, they provide travel and scholarship assistance for women to attend technology-focused learning events around the world.

I am pleased to say I could go on at length, citing many other examples. The sheer numbers and range of industries show that there is a growing, worldwide commitment to end violence against women and promote gender equality. Just ask your colleagues why they instituted these principles and how they are benefitting.

Just as importantly, these examples demonstrate that actions and policies to foster women’s inclusion and equality are also smart business decisions. After all, “equality means business.”

Let’s look:

A World Bank study found that managers could increase worker productivity by 25 to 40 per cent by eliminating discrimination against female workers and managers.

Harvard Business Review looked at 215 Fortune 500 companies over 28 years. It found organizations with a higher number of women executives performed better in terms of profits as a percent of revenue, assets and stockholder equity, by a range of 18 to 69 per cent.

A Goldman Sachs study reveals that reducing barriers to female labor force participation would increase America’s GDP by 9 percent; the Eurozone’s GDP by 13 per cent and Japan’s by 16 per cent.

And The World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report4 states it simply: “There is a strong correlation between those countries that are most successful at closing the gender gap and those that are most economically competitive.”

As a mother, a grandmother, a pediatrician, a former President and now Executive Director of UN Women, the fate of the next generation – both girls and boys – occupies much of my thinking.

Against the backdrop of today’s event, the International Women’s Day events, the Commission on the Status of Women meeting and all that is taking place in our world, I am reminded that people of good will – people like all of you in this audience – are working hard every day for the protection, the empowerment, and the inclusion of women in all facets of society.

Events such as these also remind me that there is a broad pipeline in place to continue and further this work so that in the years to come, our children and grandchildren will be part of societies that are different, that are better, more equitable and more inclusive than today’s.

Let me close this way: Like many of you, I was fascinated by the asteroid that recently lit up the Siberian sky and by the power it contained – the equivalent of many thousands of tons of TNT.

But I was also struck – not quite the same way as Siberia! – by the comments of a NASA scientist and astronaut who saw this happen, and who believes we need a warning system to track these space rocks and metals that enter the earth’s atmosphere.

He characterized it as a “wake-up call from space,” a reminder that “we’ve got to pay attention to what’s out there.” He asked, “Wouldn’t it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren’t looking?”

Ladies and gentlemen, may I suggest to you this morning that gender equality and inclusion are also powers “out there” – powers which can be harnessed to foster economic and social growth and inclusion.

Wouldn’t it be silly, wouldn’t it be tragic, if the world failed to rise out of poverty and violence because we chose simply not to see and use those forces and open space for women?

The world must continue to wake up and pay attention to the rights and opportunities for all human beings, girls and boys, men and women, to reach for the stars and live up to their potential.

It is time for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation. It is time to open public spaces, decision-making spaces, for women.

The voices you raise and the actions you take are helping the world to do so.

I’d like to leave you with a quote from a brave young woman.

In her Diary, Anne Frank tells us, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

I thank you for not waiting, and for your initiative, your dedication and your kind attention this morning.