- ABOUT SAY NO
- AROUND THE WORLD
- THE ISSUE
- TAKE ACTION
AROUND THE WORLD
Women should be an integral part of any peace process, says Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director during her visit to Colombia
UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet speaks with Bruno Moro, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Colombia, and Babatunde Osotimehin, United Nations Population Fund Executive Director, about United Nations work in the country. Ms. Bachelet arrived in Bogotá on 12 September 2012 for a three-day visit.
Photo credit: UN Women/Liliana Corzo
Speech by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet in Bogotá, Colombia
I would like to begin by wishing you all a very good afternoon, to you Mr. Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia, to those honourable ambassadors who are present today, to you Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, and to you also, Ms. Cristina Plazas —the High Counselor for Women’s Equality-to all Ministers, and furthermore, to all members of the government, legislators, members of Colombian civil society, and, last but not least, to members of women’s organizations active in the struggle for human rights, my United Nations colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, friends:
I would like to preface my speech by taking this opportunity to thank President Juan Manuel Santos, and indeed most sincerely, for the gracious and timely invitation he has extended to all of us gathered here today to participate in events that are not only momentous for women in Colombia but, in fact, for the whole of the country, irrespective of gender.
And such a thank you is no mere formality, President Santos, because through your actions you have proved to me, and indeed beyond any doubt, that you are our unwavering ally, convinced as you are that gender equality and the empowerment of women will ensure that Colombia is in a position to provide a better quality of life to all of its citizens. And I must also thank in this regard Cristina Plazas—the High Counselor for Women’s Equality-who has worked unstintingly and around the clock so that nowadays we can count on national public policy guidelines for women that have been developed following a process of consultation and participation with relevant Colombian organizations, including both regional and national networks.
Today I am visiting the outstandingly beautiful country of Colombia in my capacity as Executive Director of UN Women, a new United Nations organization that exists to promote Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and which came into being in July 2010. And, as its name suggests, the raison d’etre of UN Women is to continue to make progress, and consistently, in order to achieve across-the-board gender equality, and to this end our entity has risen to the challenge of working as a Technical Secretariat. And before going any further, I would like to thank you all for the cooperation that you have accorded to us in our endeavour, and to repeat once again to President Santos our support vis a vis the implementation of policies which, we have no doubt, will enable Colombia to be a leading player in terms of ensuring the human rights of women, and ensuring that its female citizens have continuous access to a wide spectrum of opportunities.
And, President Santos, in the pursuit of such a goal, we applaud the political commitment that you are demonstrating by virtue of making strides towards a Colombia that is ever-more committed to human rights, and in which women are in a position to enjoy unfettered access to comprehensive development. We applaud the fact that this process, committed as it is to the development of a Colombia that is fair to all, brings together so many women and men in a common goal, with input by men also being mainstreamed In this policy. We applaud the voice of so many women from all corners of Colombia, all ethnic groups, all creeds, all ideologies, different sexual orientations, who have expressed their various and manifold ideas that have also been taken heed of in the course of this process, and have been enshrined in the course of formulating this policy.
What is certain is that if an entity such as UN Women exists, this is because even today there is no real equality to be found, and not in any continent, between the respective genders. The stark truth is that not even one country can claim to have achieved complete equality between women and men. In fact, obvious or insidious cases of discrimination, exclusion, violence against women or the violation of their human rights are in evidence all over the world. But we can also see, and all our experience and wisdom bears out this realization, how our various societies simply cannot afford to disregard the invaluable opportunity that is manifested by the contribution that women can make with regard to peace-making, development processes vis a vis sustainable development, achieving the implementation of the Millennium Objectives, and also in the fields of confronting the issues of food security and climate change.
We have also noted the significant economic contribution that women can make to societies, with many studies corroborating the fact that when countries provide women with the necessary tools, including much-needed financial assistance, the economy grows and, indeed, the same studies have concluded that in cases in which women are provided with the same access as men to credit facilities, seed and fertilizers, not only is agricultural production boosted by an average of between 2.5 per cent and 4 per cent in those countries that have been studied, but, furthermore, between 100 and 150 million individuals are rescued from the pandemic of hunger.
It important is therefore not only to consider how best we can protect women when they prove to be the victims of violence and the violation of their human rights, but also how not to waste the tremendous asset of the contribution that women make every day, and in all societies. And yet, despite this keen awareness, and in the face of overwhelming evidence, reality reveals to us the gamut of inequalities that women and girls have to contend with. And here in Latin America, and please allow me to focus here on Latin America, speaking as a Latin American woman, not indeed actuated by any kind of special pleading but rather by the personal empathy that I must naturally feel. Here I have to be the bearer of the unwelcome revelation that Latin America is, in fact, the region in the world that still has the most work to do when it comes to gender-related concerns, with this inequality and accompanying poverty disfiguring the lives of so many women and of girls, and wreaking an incalculable, and highly destructive, effect on the lives of an extensive array of females. This being whether they are indigenous women, women of African descent, rural women, and women who have been displaced and that are often forced to emigrate from their native countries on account of natural disasters or armed conflicts.
It is undoubtedly the case that by launching its national public policy relating to gender equality for women, the Colombian government is giving the clearest of signals regarding its commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women that, in fact, make up 51 per cent of Colombia’s population. And, furthermore, it clear that this national policy that I am remarking on is an undertaking on the part of the State of Colombia that will serve to transform the country, resulting in a society that will be more dynamic, more just, more peaceful and more sustainable.
Once they are implemented, the public policy guidelines for gender equality for women will be effective in promoting dialogue between the government and civil society, and there can be no question that these guidelines will also facilitate progress vis a vis the guaranteeing of the civic rights of all Colombian women.
We at UN Women underscore the accomplishment of having included in this policy the component of peace-building as a central strategic underpinning. Allow me President Santos to point out that, as we have already discussed, we are well aware that Colombia is now at a crossroads, and that highly significant debate has been initiated with regard to ensuring the peace that the country so desires. We certainly hope that this process will prove to have a successful outcome, and I would like you to know that you can count on the support of the international community, and to know also that we believe that once women are comprehensively included In this historical process, they will be in a position to contribute their vision, their experience, and their know-how to this imperative, and epoch-making, dialogue. We are also aware that violence and armed conflicts all over the world affect women disproportionately, on account of scenarios such as rape, sexual exploitation in the wake of armed conflict, and forced displacement, and that these problems have not received due attention. However, we have seen in the course of armed conflicts, and indeed all over the world, how universal this violence is, and how strongly it militates against the rights of women. And, indeed, nowadays such violence against women is classified as a war crime, with the United Nations recognizing that this phenomenon constitutes a substantive threat to society.
In this regard it appears to me to be the case that this centrality in terms of policy-making that we are according to gender equality evidences clear and considerable progress. Also highly significant in this connection is the Victims and Land Restitution Law, that was passed in June 2011, and that at the signing ceremony counted on the presence of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations. This law, inter alia, aims to work for the benefit of women while preventing armed conflict and laying the groundwork for the restitution of land. Let us not forget to commend the reform of Colombia’s constitutional framework that was passed last July, and that signifies a veritable watershed for the nation, with the encouraging inclusion of women in this process, and not only as victims who should be helped, but as leaders within their respective communities. At the national level, we are confident that this reform of Colombia’s constitutional framework will contribute to ensuring that the different needs of women and men are duly taken into account, and will thereby facilitate a process that is more sustainable, more harmonious, and more representative of the whole population, resulting in a democracy that is more vibrant and more robust.
Consequently, let us celebrate the inclusion of women’s equality and women’s empowerment in the policy guidelines that we are witnessing today, and also women’s vital role in the peace-building process, confident as we are that these achievements are momentous landmarks for the nation of Colombia, and that these assets will play their part in containing the civil unrest that all too often has decimated this great country.
Our generation has not only been a witness, but has also been the protagonist, of cataclysmic transformations vis a vis women’s rights. Over the course of the last century, progress in the fight for gender equality and the empowerment of women has become entrenched. The last century witnessed an unprecedented extension of the legal rights of women. A century ago, women could vote only in two countries. Nowadays, however, this right is practically universal. Domestic violence, which up until just a few years ago was considered by the police, the law courts and even neighbours as a matter that should remain within the private domain, is nowadays the object of specific laws and programmes for prevention and reparations. As I speak, two-thirds of countries have in place a set of specific laws that punish domestic violence. And I am delighted to be in the position to say that Colombia is one of these countries.
And yet, there still remains much work to be done. Nowadays, six hundred million women live in countries in which violence goes unpunished. It is still the case that these days both women and girls continue to face glaring inequalities that, to mention only a few, include poverty, unpaid domestic work, the pay gap, discrimination and a lack of access to justice. Furthermore, this situation is compounded by the fact that justice is so often beyond the reach of women, and this despite the existence of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This Convention establishes the responsibility of all States to ensure legal protection for the rights of women on the basis of equality with men and, as its title suggests, to guarantee the effective protection of women against all acts of discrimination. But it is still the case that many states do not comply with such an undertaking, or are not successful in ensuring the implementation of such commitments. For example, while in Latin America progress in gender equality has undoubtedly been made, in addition to violence we continue to witness marked failings in two key areas: the political participation of women and their economic empowerment. While, nowadays, Latin America is one of the regions that has shown, in proportional terms, the greatest number of women who are heads of state and heads of government, the participation of women in decision-making is, nonetheless, still profoundly unequal. I say this because women continue to be under-represented in decision-making fora and their participation in the economic, political, social and cultural fields in their various countries continues to be relatively negligible.
Latin American countries bear out the fact that there are fewer women than men who are at the helm of ministries, and those women who are in fact ministers continue to occupy for the most part social and cultural portfolios. In the field of the economy and finance, we can witness only 18 per cent of representation by women, and this under-representation also pertains to the ministries of science and technology. Therefore, it is essential that the voice of women becomes more and more insistent with regard to the need to address existing shortcomings in resources for gender equality and the empowerment of women. While in Colombia progress has undoubtedly been made, there is still work to be done in this field, and these are matters that I have discussed with Cristina Plazas, and with both ministers and vice-ministers, in the course of a very productive meeting, and during the course of which we benefitted from having access to a very detailed report regarding all the policies currently being developed. But, I have to say, at the end of our meeting a consensus was reached that in the field of ensuring equal representation for women in decision-making positions, not enough progress is being made.
According to official data collated from 64 municipalities that have to date been evaluated, only 8 had complied with the permanent law of quotas that stipulates a minimum of 30 per cent of female representation in decision-making positions; indeed, in terms of parliamentary representation, as of now only 16 per cent of seats are held by women. Furthermore, there also continues to exist a marked under-representation of women in other decision-making fora: according to the Colombian official banking supervisor, in 2011 women occupied only 14 per cent of directorships of banks and only 15 per cent of representation on the boards of directors. However, such scant representation is also to be witnessed within trade unions where only 10 per cent of positions within the upper echelons of power are held women. And it is surely a matter of regret that, in the stock market, Colombia’s leading regulatory banking entity vis a vis monetary policy, not a single female director is to be found.
Over the last decade, women all over the world have also faced inequalities with regard to salaries, despite the fact that the pay gap between women and men has diminished gradually, due for the most part, to the improving educational levels of women. That said, despite working the same number of hours, and possessing the same educational qualifications, in global terms women earn less than 75 per cent of the salary of their male peers. In Colombia, according to the official labour watchdog, women earn 16 per cent less than their men counterparts and despite this disparity, according to national statistical data collated between 2007 and 2010, Colombian women on average worked almost 11 hours more than men. But, nonetheless, Colombia can claim to have in place key policies that mainstream issues of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Colombia was, in fact, the first country to pass a law relating to the economy of care, reaching the statute book in 2011, and that recognizes the contribution made by women to the economy of households. And another case in point is law 14 1096 passed last year, and that seeks to ensure pay parity between women and men.
Let me inform you that we are seeking nothing less than full-blown equality between women and men because it appears to us that this is the right path, not only in terms of progressing towards a society that respects the right of all of its citizens, but it is also the most intelligent means of ensuring that there are more women working in the economy, more women contributing to the political debate, more educated women engaging in research and coming up with innovative solutions for problems that are faced not only by communities, but indeed by the whole country. Let us harness the skills and talents of these women who make up more than half of Colombia’s population, and the whole nation will stand to benefit. In fact, and as we are well aware, women in Colombia have already played a pivotal role in the struggle for the recognition that was being denied to them, and the implementation of their full rights by consolidating capacities vis a vis decision-making, and they are already making a vital contribution to Colombian society through their contribution to the agenda of overcoming poverty and inequality and sustainable development, through combating food insecurity and energy waste, through constructing and maintaining peace, through ensuring a life for the whole of Colombian society that is free of violence. To this end, we are hopeful that the conception of this gender equality policy, and its subsequent and successful implementation, will make it possible to transform previously held dreams into reality, and in this sterling effort on the part of the government and Colombian civil society, UN Women is at the ready to provide all the assistance that it possibly can.
President Santos, High Conselor for Women’s Equality, my friends, the implementation of this plan will make it possible to translate into action the aspirations of so many women and girls. It will prove to be successful in terms of introducing actions that stake a claim for equality and the empowerment of women, so that decent jobs and fair remuneration are ensured , becoming a milestone on the road to women’s rights in the workplace. And the implementation of this plan will also promote tolerance, and stop impunity in the event of crimes committed against women. And it goes without saying that such a plan will also safeguard these women’s right to sexual and reproductive health, providing them with health services that are both accessible and reliable. Our end objective in this case is to achieve comprehensive equality between women and men, and the celebration of individual diversity, irrespective of gender.
There can be no doubt that there is no time to waste, and this sense of urgency has been well understood by the government of President Santos. Now is the opportune moment to take decisive action in order to ensure that women and men can come to enjoy the same rights, opportunities and representation. The implementation of the public policy guidelines which I have referred to, and that constitute a major achievement on the part of the Colombian government, will surely prove to be effective in guaranteeing the rights of women. To this end, it is of the essence to work hand-in-hand with women’s organizations that day after day, and with an undiminished zeal, strive to ensure a better life for all women and, indeed, for all men.
Finally, President Santos, I would like to conclude by congratulating the remarkable and highly topical success of the Colombian athletes, Mariana Pajón and María Isabel Urrutia, both of whom were awarded gold medals at the recent London Olympics. Let us not forget that these achievements mark the first time in the history of Colombia’s sporting endeavour that its national athletes have been awarded Olympic gold medals. And it is only fitting that these victories, emblematic of the enormous potential of women, should spur us on to develop and refine an effective modus operandi by virtue of which participation by women in all spheres of political, social, cultural life and, indeed in the realm of peace-building, is nurtured. I would like you to know, President Santos, that in the pursuit of this objective, the United Nations in general, and UN Women in particular, is at the ready to provide you with its expertise and its unwavering support.
Thank you so much.