Excellencies, colleagues and friends,
It is an honour and a pleasure for me to be here on behalf of Helen Clark, Chair of UN Development Group and UNDP Administrator to participate in this meeting on achieving gender equality in the European Neighbourhood Policy region.
I thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia for organising this timely and important conference, and for inviting the United Nations to be a part of it.
We applaud the efforts of the President, the Prime Minister and the Government of Georgia in placing women’s rights and gender equality at the forefront of the national development agenda.
Your plans to ratify the Istanbul Convention and progress on the women, peace and security national action plan are all testimony to Georgia’s commitment to protect women's rights and promote gender equality.
The President’s declaration of 2015 as the Year of Women, and your Government’s continuous support for the introduction of mandatory political quotas to increase women's participation in politics are noteworthy commitments towards prioritizing gender equality in your national agenda.
The United Nations stands with the European Union and all other partners to support you in your efforts.
This conference takes place at a most opportune moment for global development.
This year marks important milestones.
It is 20 years since the Beijing women’s conference and the International Conference on Population and Development, which gave us the landmark platforms for Action for women’s rights and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.
In September, in New York, the world leaders have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals that give us a roadmap for transformative development to 2030. The new global agenda reaffirms the pivotal role of women and of gender equality in peace and sustainable development.
Goal 5 spells out the importance of women’s full and effective participation at all levels of decision-making. Goal 16 recognizes that inclusive and representative decision-making is critical for promoting peaceful and inclusive societies. With the prominence of gender equality in the SDGs, we are better poised than ever to keep gender equality and women’s participation in all spheres of public life at the centre of the global development agenda.
In October, we observed the 15th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. It was an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the women, peace and security agenda.
Against this background it is heartening that the EU has adopted a new framework for gender equality and women's empowerment in external relations, for the next four years (2016-2020), to support, in particular, developing, enlargement and neighbourhood countries.
Excellences, colleagues and friends,
Gender equality is a matter of human rights. It is a matter of sustainable development. And it is a matter of common sense. If all members of society are equally empowered to participate and contribute to development, the sum of our efforts will be greater and have a more profound impact on world’s progress and people’s wellbeing.
This conference addresses issues that are fundamental to gender equality – women’s political and economic empowerment, women’s role in peace and security and ending violence against women and girls. Let me address each of them briefly and outline ways in which UN agencies are helping to address them.
First and foremost, women’s political and economic empowerment are cornerstones for the achievement of gender equality.
Despite much progress, women are still only 22% of parliamentarians worldwide. Only 45 countries have at least 30% women in parliament.
To drive the kind of change that will result in gender equality in political representation, we need to remove persistent barriers which women face. Gender quotas for political parties can be a powerful vehicle for supporting women candidates and giving them access to campaign finance. Georgia is now working to introduce mandatory quotas for the next parliamentary and local elections, with UNDP and UN Women support.
It is equally critical to promote women’s political participation at the local level.
We need to empower more women, build their capacities and promote role models that will encourage more to take on political and public roles in their communities and countries.
When it comes to economic empowerment, the challenges are many:
Women face persistent discrimination in employment. The gender wage gap in this region ranges from seven per cent [in Kazakhstan] to 51 per cent [in Azerbaijan].
“Glass ceilings and walls” still prevent women from advancing in their careers.
Women lack access to assets, land, resources and credit. Too many women are in informal and part-time jobs. And too few are decision-makers in public and private enterprises – again the progress has begun in Europe, where, for example, Norway and Germany have set quotas for women’s membership of corporate boards.
UNDP and UN Women support countries to make gender-responsive economic policies and budgets. Here in Tbilisi, two weeks ago UNDP, with ILO, the World Bank and the EU, has just held a sub-regional conference on employment and inclusion. All partners agreed on the need to address unpaid care work, which is one of the biggest barriers to women’s entry to the formal labour force.
We are advocating with policymakers to recognize the economic and societal impact of the lack of care services. UNDP, with UNW and ILO, have supported important new policy research in Turkey that makes a strong economic case for public investment in the care sector as a way to create jobs and promote gender equality.
Secondly, on peace and security, as we are witnessing the largest migration of people since Second World War and a number of other unsettling events globally and in this neighbourhood, we see how women and children are exploited and face insecurity and all forms of violence, including sexual violence.
But in the transition from crisis and conflict to peace and development, we also have opportunities to transform societies, including by addressing longstanding inequalities and investing in development in fragile states.
Women are the source of resilience and they work hard every day to build the resilience of communities and nations. This is why women must be at the table as equal participants during peace-building efforts.
Thirdly, sexual and gender-based violence continues to be a key violation of women’s rights in the region.
Nearly one in three women in Eastern Europe and Central Asia suffer from sexual or/and intimate partner violence. Only one in ten women who experience violence seek help or report acts of violence to state institutions.
Combating violence against women and girls calls for multi-sectoral approaches. On the legal and policy front, UNDP supported the enactment of pioneering national laws to combat domestic violence in Kosovo (UNSCR 1244) and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. UNFPA support for research on domestic violence has generated indispensable data for evidence-based national plans in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Helping governments to implement the Istanbul Convention is our key priority. The UN Women has done this in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Georgia, where it has also helped to set up shelters and a nationwide hotline.
Finally, changing behaviour is key to combating violence against women and girls. UNFPA as well as UNW support advocacy and innovative programming to mobilize men as actors for change.
Excellences, colleagues and friends,
In addition to taking concrete measures, we must also tackle more amorphous challenges, such as societal attitudes and gender stereotypes that are reinforced in popular media, at home, at school and at work. Changing these attitudes is essential if we are serious about gender equality.
Women’s organizations play a vital role in promoting gender equality by articulating women’s concerns. Supporting them is critical.
Building the resilience of families, communities and societies depends on women’s participation and men’s participation. With the adoption of the SDGs, we are at a pivotal moment in advancing our shared development goals and create a better world for today and our future.
In the United Nations, we are committed to working with all our partners to ensure that gender equality is not just a promise on paper, but a reality in all countries in the EU’s Neighbourhood and beyond.
Thank you for your attention,