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, involves and protects its women and girls.
It sounds obvious and simple and there is much evidence in support of such a statement but, there continues to persist many barriers to real and substantial investment in women and girls and real and substantial recognition of women and girls’ basic human rights.
And this is clearly reflected when we look at the impact the MDGs have had on the quality of life for women and girls. While there has been success in the case of some MDG targets such as primary education, overall progress on gender equality and women’s rights across the goals remains slow and uneven.
Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words on a theme that I strongly believe is a corner-stone to achieving the world we want – where all women and men, adult and young have equal opportunities, freedoms and choices to forge their own life aspirations and destinies.
The theme of today’s event: “Investing in girls and women, Everybody wins”, in essence captures how giving women and girls access to basic human rights – be it their right to education, jobs or their sexual and reproductive health and rights – can accelerate development and economic growth. Often investing in women and girls is promoted under the slogan that it is “smart economics”. And that is very true. When women are given equal access to education, opportunities and resources the society as a whole benefits.
But, it is not just about economics. When you invest in women the returns are great and widespread. We know that women reinvest their income at a much higher rate, than men, back into their families, giving her children; better food, access to school; and better health. For her it is not about economics, it is about providing for her children.
And we all know that women and adolescent girls, whose sexual and reproductive health and rights are NOT neglected and therefore have control over decisions regarding their sexuality and the number, timing and spacing of their children: are healthier, better able to complete an education and participate in the workforce.
Behind the ‘smart economics’ are the individuals – women and girls and their basic human rights. Sadly, women and girls continue to face systematic obstacles due to gender-based discrimination, violence and inequality.
Being born a ‘girl’ should not prevent one from reaching their full potential but, unfortunately in many developing countries with restricted opportunities and choices, being born a ‘girl’ does just that. The numbers speak for themselves, when we talk about; teenage pregnancies, early and forced marriages, gender-based violence or HIV/AIDS.
I strongly believe that gender equality is one of the most important things 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 communities.
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 MDGs. Rather perplexing – when this enormous group/resource is our future.
The MDG’s acknowledged the important correlation between education and gender equality but, a very crucial element of education not covered is comprehensive sexuality education.
Almost half of these young people are adolescents who are already or will be entering the sexual and reproductive stages of their lives and too many, do not have the basic information and support to make the safe passage into adulthood.
Investments in such areas as family planning and comprehensive sexuality education for young people are having positive effects. Increasing our efforts in these areas would reduce unintended pregnancies, avert newborn deaths, and reduce pregnancy-related deaths. We would save lives and contribute to stronger societies with an improved ability to develop and grow to the benefit of all.
We cannot afford economically and socially to leave this resource untapped.
Our joint efforts should focus on how we can help to ensure that women and each and every young person can reach their full potential.
Joint efforts must go beyond traditional partnerships and strategies. We need to go from short- to long-term thinking. We need to find innovative and groundbreaking solutions. We need the involvement of women and men, boys and girls. We need to respect but, challenge harmful social norms. We need greater awareness and political commitment.
And we need to effectively engage the business community. How can they be drivers of change? What can they do to close the gender gap internally? How can their internal culture positively influence the community in which they are present?
There exists, here and now, a window of opportunity to ensure that the status and rights of women and girls are recognised, celebrated and placed in the centre of any sustainable global development agenda of the future.
We need increased investment in women and girls. We need to close the gender gap and if we can do that, it will be a win for the individual, for global development and economic growth – everybody wins.