Address by Irina Bokova on the occasion of “Women in Politics and Government”

Global Women Leaders Forum
19 May 2016
Sofia, Grand Sofia Hotel,

Address by Irina Bokova,
Director-General of UNESCO
on the occasion of “Women in Politics and Government”

Excellency Ms Meglena Kuneva, Deputy Prime Minister for European Policies, Minister of Education,

Excellency Ms Meher Afroze Chumki, State Minister for Women and Children Affairs of Bangladesh,

Excellency Ms Aminata Toure, Former Prime Minister of Senegal, Special Envoy of the President of Senegal,

Excellencies Ministers,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

Dr Boriana Manolova, CEO of Siemens Bulgaria, Chair of the Council of Women in Business in Bulgaria,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for attending the Global Women Leaders’ Forum.

This has special meaning for me, held in Sofia, with the support of the Council of Women in Business in Bulgaria.

We know that when women participate fully in their governments and economies, they and their families benefit, but so do their communities, their countries, and even the world as a whole – said Hilary Clinton, former State Secretary of the United States.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the first point I wish to make.

Women are already leading.

They lead families, companies, and governments.

So, to start, we must recognize and support women’s leadership.

Let me give you an example.

Khalida is a young woman, enrolled at a UNESCO training centre in Afghanistan.

She told us she was hesitant to join — she changed her mind, to serve her community, to establish her own business, and she was supported here by her family.

This is women’s leadership.

Let me mention also Malala Yousafzai, who was jointly awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with children’s rights and education advocate Kailash Satyarti of India.

Malala was shot, precisely because she is a leader…

I was honoured to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo when she said:

I am just a committed and stubborn person, who wants to see every child getting quality education, who wants equal rights for women and peace in every corner of the world.

This is women’s leadership, and it has never been so important.

2015 saw ground-breaking agreements, charting a new vision for women and men, for peace, for the planet.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Gender equality is a stand-alone goal of the 2030 Agenda – it is the key to success across all new goals.

During the negotiations on the Paris Agreement, Mary Robinson –Ireland’s first female president and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – highlighted the need for female voices.

This is a very male world,” she said. “When it is a male world, you have male priorities …. If you don’t have women here, how can you say this is about the people?

I agree, because she is right.

2015 was also the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – I was honoured to be in Beijing and I recall vividly the energy of that moment.

There has been tremendous progress since 1995.

Maternal mortality has been cut by almost half.

There have been strong steps towards parity for girls and boys in primary school.

More and more women are active in politics.

The Economist magazine estimated the increase of employment of women in developed countries during the last decade has added more to global growth than China.

But steep challenges remain.

In 2014, only 17 percent of government ministers were women.

Out of 152 countries, only 9 had female Heads of State.

Across the world, only 21.8 percent of parliamentarians are women.

The situation is stark in education.

Girls and women are the majority of out-of-school children, youth and illiterate adults.

In sub-Saharan Africa, if trends continue, the richest boys will achieve universal primary completion in 2021 — while the poorest girls will wait until… 2086.

I know I am preaching to the converted, but we must never tire in sharing our message.

Inequality condemns individuals to poverty — it undermines the health of societies — it curtails opportunities for sustainable growth.

Gender equality is a human right.

Gender equality is a development multiplier.

Gender equality is a force for peace.

Leadership is not a gift of nature – it is something to be nurtured.

This starts on the benches of schools, in the laboratories of universities.

Education is a breakthrough strategy for human development.

It gives voice, it encourages civic participation, it widens opportunities.

This is why gender equality and education stand at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, and must guide every effort to lead it forward.

We cannot allow anyone to be left behind – especially girls and women.

These convictions guide UNESCO across the world.

In Afghanistan, we have reached 600,000 learners with literacy, with women and girls as a priority.

In Pakistan, we are targeting girls and women with literacy skills, and I launched the Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education, with the Government of Pakistan.

Last month, I was in Kathmandu to launch the Joint Programme in Nepal for the Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women through Education, with UN Women and the United Nations Population Fund.

We need new forms of “soft power”, working with governments, civil society, the private sector.

This is why I launched the Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education in 2011, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and then United States Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

This Partnership targets girls’ secondary education and women’s literacy, joining forces with major private companies — with Procter & Gamble, with the Packard Foundation, with Nokia.

These initiatives multiply the power of gender equality.

Recognition is another multiplier.

Take science — where for over fifteen years, UNESCO has partnered with L’Oréal to promote women leaders in science and support thousands of young women researchers across the world.

We do all this to strengthen the leadership of women, to enhance their role in decision-making on matters that affect all of society.

As I look around this room, I wish to thank you for your leadership.

In this spirit, I pledge I will continue to do everything to empower girls and women, everywhere, in every society.

I will do so, because gender equality is the human rights issue for the 21st century, because empowering girls and women will power a better future for all.

Thank you.



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