President of the General Assembly, Secretary General, Headmaster, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the warm words of welcome and to Birkerød Gymnasium for inviting me to join you this afternoon at the opening ceremony of BIGMUN 2014. A concept, I personally find very inspiring and extremely important.
The United Nations is the unique forum in which the world’s countries meet to exchange views and to find joint solutions. The road to agreement can – as we all know – be long and winding but it is nevertheless within the UN that important and fundamental agreements between nations are made; agreements that constitute the framework for our co-existence as nations and as people – whether we are concerned about peace and security, trade and development or human rights.
That a Model United Nations conference exists, where ’you’ as future ‘movers and shakers’ can here begin to better understand and experience what for some of you will be your future trade, is not only beneficial to yourselves, it is also promising for achieving the World We Want.
I have been very much looking forward to coming today. A warm welcome to all of you and to the around 130 students visiting Denmark as delegates. I hope your time here is one that will see you return.
I am certain that this conference will be both productive and inspiring. I know that you have some busy days of debate and resolutions ahead of you, and the issues on your agenda are some of the most challenging facing the world today; Humanitarian Conditions for Refugees, Rights of Children, and the Status of Women.
Today, I would like to focus on the last of those three issues: The Status of Women.
In a couple of weeks I will be attending the UN’s 58th Commission on the Status of Women. The primary focus will be on the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.
Almost 15 years ago we made a promise to improve the world through the achievement of the United Nations’ 8 Millennium Development Goals. And much has been achieved, but the goals that are lagging the most, are those that have women and girls at their core. Including MDG5 – for the reduction of maternal mortality.
Every single day 800 women die due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications. A true tragedy, as the means to prevent many of these deaths are well-known and cost-effective solutions are available.
When you think that women and girls account for one-half of a country’s potential talent base, a nation’s competitiveness in the long-term depends significantly on whether and how it educates and involves and protects its women and girls.
And when you invest in women, the returns are great. There exists much evidence that women reinvest their income, at a much higher rate than men, back into their families, giving them better food, access to school and better health. This in turn brings down rates of undernourishment, unemployment and disease.
Women deliver for their children, their families, their communities and their countries.
So, it is clear why the primary focus of the 58th UN Commission on the status of women is related to the impact, or lack thereof, that the MDG’s have had on the quality of life for women and girls.
I will be attending this Commission in my role as a member of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD – the International Conference on Population and Development. In 1994, this UN conference was held in Cairo and a visionary and groundbreaking Program of Action was adopted by 179 governments. It moved population policy and programs away from a focus on human numbers to a focus on human lives and put the emphasis where is should be; on improving the lives of individuals. The ICPD PoA (otherwise known as the Cairo Agenda) placed the human rights of women, including their reproductive rights and health at the centre of population and sustainable development.
So what is this High Level Task Force that I’m a member of?
It was created to provide a bold and independent voice on sexual and reproductive health and rights and ensure that it is a reality for all. Basically, it is the right to decide over your own body. The right to make free, informed and responsible decisions about one’s body, sexuality, health, relationships, and if, when and with whom to marry and have children with.
These rights are the foundation of the Cairo agenda and 20 years later, this agenda remains unfinished but still highly relevant.
The Task Force’s mission is to further the vision and realisation of what was agreed upon in Cairo, advance it and ensure its’ rightful place in the Post-2015 global development framework which is currently being discussed, debated and negotiated.
Disturbingly, the critical mass in favour of the Cairo Agenda has diminished. In other words, you could say that the world is more conservative today than it was 20 years ago. Persistent conservative forces attempt to derail any moves to draw greater attention to sexuality and sexual rights.
The 2013 UN Commission on the Status of Women saw a backlash against women`s rights, specifically upholding arguments based on religion, culture and tradition.
The fact is there is a lot of resistance and opposition. Sexual and reproductive rights and health remains a highly sensitive issue.
So, why is the HLTF agenda so fundamental?
What was decided in Cairo 20 years ago remains absolutely relevant to addressing some of the most pressing development challenges in the world today; including eradicating poverty, and achieving social justice and equity.
The High Level Task Force affirms that there are three important pillars that must be part of the new global agenda:
The human rights of women and girls and gender equality;
The rights and empowerment of adolescents and youth; and
Sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.
These are essential foundations of a universal, people-centred, socially-just and effective post-2015 agenda that will benefit all humanity, the planet, and yields high returns for both present and future generations.
Too many people around the world have these rights neglected or denied, especially women and girls, and poor and marginalized communities.
I have travelled to countries greatly challenged by these issues and have met many courageous women and young girls with heart-breaking stories of the consequences they suffer every day due to limited or no access to information and life-saving services. Stories that are hard to comprehend let alone accept especially, when we know what to do and how to do it.
On a trip to Mozambique, I met a young girl – Palmira – who shared her story of how she became a single mother of three boys with three different fathers.
She told me that she became pregnant after her first sexual act because they had no information about safe sex and that she – being poor, uneducated and a ‘girl’ – had no ability to negotiate safe sex.
Her third child was born with serious eye problems because, as she explained, she had contracted a Sexually Transmitted Infection which went untreated. Again, lack of access to information and services. All three men rejected their responsibility which meant Palmira had to drop out of school to take care of her children – and at the same time drop her dreams of creating a better life for herself.
Palmira is not alone in facing such difficult challenges at such a young age.
16 million adolescent girls give birth annually. For these girls, maternal mortality is a leading cause of death.
Every 30 seconds a young person becomes HIV positive – young women are 2 to 8 times as likely to be infected as young men their age.
Every year, 14 million young girls are forced into marriage – that is 39,000 every day.
140 million women and girls have undergone female genital cutting, which is most often practiced before the age of 15.
222 million women in developing countries want to prevent pregnancy but are not using a modern method of contraception – resulting in 80 million unplanned pregnancies and 20 million unsafe abortions.
All over the world, women face systematic obstacles due to gender-based discrimination, violence and inequality, severely compromising their human rights and freedoms. As many as 7 out of 10 women experience domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime – some even both – making it one of the most pervasive human rights violations.
Two thirds of the world’s 790 million illiterate adults are women and women face higher unemployment rates and are more likely to be in low-paid, less-secure jobs.
We are now seeing the largest generation of young people under 25 in history, yet adolescents and youth were largely missing and ignored in the current MDGs. Rather perplexing – when this enormous group/resource is our future. Almost half of these adolescents are already in or will be entering the sexual and reproductive stages of their lives. Many live in developing countries with restricted opportunities and choices, and are in need of adequate human rights protection and education and services so; they can make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and better plan their lives.
The facts are shocking but the potential, if we can change them is enormous and beautiful. We cannot afford, both economically and socially, to leave the enormous resource that youth and women represent untapped.
As you know, we are entering the final phases in the process to identify and establish the next round of global development goals. The process is complicated and difficult to navigate in – it is easy to get lost in the whole development space. There are a numerous Task Forces, Working Groups, High Level Panels, Commissions, Proposals, Policy Papers, you name it, all working hard to influence the UN process where they can, and ensure that their agenda will be included in the new sustainable development framework post-2015.
Competition is fierce. Today, there are many more political agendas in play, for example climate change and sustainable energy are taking headlines.
I strongly believe that Gender Equality is the single most important thing that can be done to improve the world. Gender equality is a human right and the foundation for building vibrant, healthy and prosperous societies and economies.
There exists, here and now, a window of opportunity to ensure that the status of women and girls, the rights of women, the importance of women, the value of women and investment in women are recognized, celebrated and placed in the centre of any sustainable global development agenda of the future.
I want a world, where all women and men, adult and young have equal opportunities, freedoms and choices to forge their own life aspirations and destinies.
I hope that what I have said gives meaning and I hope it can create discussion and debate and serve as a little piece of inspiration for you during this conference. I look very much forward to hearing the outcomes you agree upon. Maybe they will come to serve as inspiration for me in my work.
Thank you and good luck.