26 February 2013
“The Power of Empowered Women”
Opening remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
“The Power of Empowered Women”
Palais des Nations, Assembly Hall
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 12:30 p.m.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to be here today with you for this very important event on the impact that women can make in society when they are able to fully exercise their rights. I seize this opportunity to thank the Group of Women Ambassadors for this great initiative and for bringing together a group of female leaders from across the world to share with us their experience.
The empowerment of women is one of the United Nations’ core objectives. Last year, on the occasion of International’s Women’s Day, the Secretary-General recalled that there are today “more women Heads of State or Government than ever, and the highest proportion of women serving as Government ministers. Women are exercising ever greater influence in business”. He also underlined that more girls are going to school, and are growing up healthier and better equipped to realize their potential.
Over many decades, the UN has made significant progress in advancing gender equality. Yet, gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society. Women continue to face discrimination in access to education, to work and to economic assets, and in participation in government. Worse, on the street and in the home, violence against women continues, undermining all other efforts in the process. The statistics are appalling: up to 70 per cent of women experience violence in their lifetime; one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime; each year, 10 million under aged girls are married off as children, denying them their rights to education, to health and to live in safety and security.
Around the world women encounter discrimination in the work place and are therefore prevented from realizing their full potential. More women obtain degrees than men but women are less likely to be employed than men and those who do work typically earn less than their male counterparts.
We believe this situation needs to be quickly and drastically changed! In 2011, the United Nations created “UN Women” – a UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Its role is to support inter-governmental bodies in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms, and help Member States to implement these standards. UN Women also coordinates and promotes the UN system’s work in advancing gender equality.
Throughout the United Nations Secretariat, management tools are strengthening the accountability and transparency of all those working towards achieving key organizational priorities such as gender parity.
The United Nations Office at Geneva is committed to supporting this goal and tries through the staff selection system to increase female representation. The introduction of flexible working arrangements, where possible, to help staff members achieve a better balance between their professional and personal lives, also contributes to achieving gender equality goals. There is some significant progress. Over the last 10 years, for example, there has been an increase in female staff in the professional and higher categories here at UNOG from 34% to almost 50%. From my experience, women often work better than men. They are often more dedicated and their results are outstanding.
Gender equality is an essential part of protecting universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. Empowering women as economic, political, and social actors can also change policy choices and have positive spill-over effects on society at large. Indeed, women are a driving force. When they can exercise their full rights, they contribute to a more equitable, fair, and balanced world.
In its latest annual report, UN Women pointed out that countries with greater equality are more competitive and grow faster. Gender equality matters for development. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity and improve development outcomes. According to the World Bank, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in employment could increase productivity per worker by as much as 25 percent in some countries!
Let me now leave the floor to the panellists. I look forward to listening to their experience. Thank you very much.