UN Deputy Secretary-General’s remarks at Motsepe Foundation Breakfast

By | 3 December 2018

Motsepe Foundation Breakfast, Sustainable Development Goal 5 Breakfast Panel Discussion

Theme: “Achieve equality by ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere”

In the words of the late Kofi Annan, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

Ending discrimination against women and girls, is a first, imperative step to true equality. A world where equal opportunities are provided to all, regardless of their sex or gender.

Today, we are in the midst of the 16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls. Every year, we mark these days as a reminder that violence, in all its forms, still persists, in every country, region, village. It can take the form of political violence, violence in the school, community, public space. We also mark World AIDS Day today; we must also look to end discrimination that comes with the stigma of having the disease – which affects more women and girls than men and boys.

As we seek to deliver on the 17 sustainable development goals, Goal 5 recognizes that gender equality is imperative to overall development, peace, prosperity and to build a safer, more just future for all.

We need a stand-alone goal, because the issue of inequality is deeply rooted and engrained in all societies, and it prevents us from truly prospering, developing and creating a more peaceful world. As an example, if we, collectively, globally, ensured that women were equally engaged in the workforce as men, we could increase the global GDP by 12 trillion USD. That is 12 trillion dollars we in turn could invest in sustainable development.  And we know, three years into the ambitious 17 goals in the SDGs, that every investment matters. Instead, women make up only 40% of the global workforce, women earn less on the dollar than men in most countries, and women, regardless of where they live, still disproportionately shoulder the unpaid care work in homes and communities.

By investing in a more equal labor force, by investing in ending discrimination in the workplace, social security safety nets, equal access to education and an end to harassment at work, we can ensure that our economies grow. This requires breaking down barriers in laws, policies and attitudes, putting in place policies that undo discrimination, and empowering women and men to find solutions that work for their families in sharing the household work.

We need a stand-alone goal, because inequality starts at birth. Globally, fewer girls than boys receive an education, resulting in more women than men who are illiterate. We know that in times of drought, or crisis, girls are more likely to drop out of school because they need to fetch water for families.

Where there are inadequate sanitation facilities, girls often do not attend school when they are menstruating, missing out on their educational opportunities. By ensuring equal access to education and opportunities from birth, by conditioning boys and girls to believe that they can be and do anything, we will see an increase of women in technology, we will have more female leaders, and more empowered future generations.

We need a stand-alone goal, because 6 women every hour are killed by an intimate partner or family member globally. Something South Africa is only too familiar with. Because femicide is a pandemic that is deeply rooted in the notion of superiority of one gender over the other. In a belief of what and who women should be and not be, when they should speak, and when they should be silenced. By working with women and men, we are breaking down barriers of gender norms. By ensuring that there is an adequate, victim-centred, justice system in place, with a policy environment that supports it, we can ensure that there is no space for impunity. That there is no space for any form of violence against women and girls.

We need a stand-alone goal, because many countries have yet to see a woman as head of state. Globally only 5% of heads of state are women. Women are under-represented in public life from parliaments to cabinets.

Yet when we have more diverse governments, and more women, we know that policies tend to focus more on social justice, decisions are made differently. We are working with civil society, women leaders, and governments to increase representation of women in political life. Only this way will we change the perception of women’s roles.

We need a stand-alone goal, because women suffer differently in times of conflict. Not just sexual violence, but all forms of violence against women escalate, and pre-existing gender inequalities are exacerbated. Child marriage increases in times of conflict, as does violence against women and girls in refugee and IDP communities.

Yet when it comes to peacemaking, where we know that peace agreements are more likely to last with women equally at the table, women are rarely meaningfully represented, and made up only 8% of negotiators in peace agreements between 1990-2017. South Africa has played a leading role in your own country and now on the continent and internationally, in championing the role of women in negotiations and political transitions.

We need a stand-alone goal, because of young women like Halima, whom I met on a recent trip to Niger. Halima, married against her will as a mere child.  She was indoctrinated by her husband – a member of Boko Haram – and prepared to become a suicide bomber. Instructions in hand, suicide belt strapped to her, she and two friends set off towards a busy market.

When they stopped to pray, the belts on her friends accidentally detonated. Halima lost both her legs, but she lived. Today, she is working to support other young women such as herself, working to bring an end to violent extremism. She is a paralegal. She has a voice of her own. She is an inspiration.

While I am hopeful for the full achievement of the SDGs, the first five-year milestone is looming over us.  Much is still to be done. The SDGs are more than a development programme, they are a universal agenda that needs to be locally owned and implemented, embedded in national policies and actions, and be the bedrock for any form of development to be truly sustainable.

There is no time to waste, and we must all do our part to end discrimination and push the agenda forward, to continue to provide the space for women´s voices to be included, for gender equality to be addressed, and for investment and prioritization to be given to the global agenda of our time.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”

Johannesburg, 2nd December 2018


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