Address at Summit Dialogue on Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment
United Nations, New York, 27th September 2015
Distinguished hosts, Excellencies
I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this critically important dialogue on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Despite some progress in the twenty years since the Beijing Conference, gender inequality remains the most persistent and prevalent form of human rights violation, globally.
At a time when women’s rights are under increasing threat from extremist groups who seek to enslave rather than empower women, there is a compelling need to renew the collective commitment made in Beijing twenty years ago and to consider more deeply what remains to be done if we are to achieve the full enjoyment of women’s rights.
The challenges posed to governments by the Beijing Platform do not speak only to countries in any one region of the planet, and we must all approach this issue with humility and openness. While Ireland recognises that there are areas in which we have further to go in achieving equality for women in our own country, Ireland has made gender equality a priority area of our foreign policy, but our strategies now will be, I know, all the more robust because of our new universal commitment.
Since its election to the UN Human Rights Council in 2013, Ireland has taken every opportunity to highlight the right of all girls in every country to quality education.
We have also emphasised the centrality of promoting women’s participation in decision-making at all levels and the importance of eradicating harmful practices, especially female genital mutilation.
Ireland is also firmly dedicated to the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 addressing distinct negative impact of conflict on women and girls and the particular contribution of women to peace-building, and has recently published its second National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security .
A particular priority is attached to the prevention of and response to gender-based violence, including institutional violence, which undermines the health, well-being and livelihoods of millions of women around the world. During my visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa last November, I saw how practical measures such as using technology to reduce the need for women to gather firewood could make a profound difference to women’s safety. I also witnessed Irish Aid working in close partnership with civil society organisations and national and local governments to support survivors of gender-based violence and to transform social norms and attitudes, particularly those of men, which permit such intolerable violence. We cannot wait another 15 years to end violence against women.
This is an issue to which I have a deep commitment. For this reason, I was honoured to accept, earlier this year, the invitation of UN Under-Secretary General, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, to become a champion of the UN Women’s HeforShe campaign, a global effort which aims to engage men and boys in removing the social and cultural barriers which perpetuate gender inequality.
Any paradigm of gender equality as being the gift of men, given either generously or reluctantly, has always missed, and will always miss, the point. Gender equality is a right achieved and not a gift. During that visit, the central role of women, particularly women in rural and agricultural settings, in finding solutions to the elimination of extreme poverty and food insecurity was also brought home to me. Women produce more than half of the world’s food, but have largely been confined to the role of “invisible actors” in developing agricultural and development strategies. This must change.
In the context of this week’s Summit, the inclusion of a specific Sustainable Development Goal relating to gender equality must be recognised as a key element of the Agenda 2030 text. In the work that must be done to address the structural weaknesses of the global economic and financial systems, the position of women must be central and not residual to our considerations.
Gender equality cuts across all areas and arrangements in social, economic and trade must not be such as will impact on the achievement of gender equality. They must instead assist in its achievement.
Let us be clear: we cannot achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals if we do not achieve gender equality. If we do not enable the true empowerment of women and girls worldwide our declarations will be shown to have been empty rhetoric. We must change, gather momentum in our change, so that this does not happen.