Statement by Mr. Musinga Bandora, UN Resident Coordinator on International Women’s Day Commemoration

08 Mar 2012

His Excellency, Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia, Honourable Doreen Sioka, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare

Honourable Angelika Muharukua, Deputy Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare

Senior Government Officials

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Mr. Ivan Lombardt, NANGOF Chief Executive Officer Colleagues from the United Nations family in Namibia Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of United Nations in Namibia, I would like to begin by thanking the Honourable Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, for inviting us to join the country in the commemoration of the International Women’s Day. Today's gathering is particularly significant. It marks not only the International  Women’s Day but the launching  of the revised National Gender Policy as well.

I also wish to join in paying special tribute and thanking His Excellency the President for coming to officiate at this commemoration and launching the National Gender Policy. You presence here Mr. President testifies to your personal commitment and that of your government to the pursuit of gender equality in the country.

Distinguished guests

The celebration of the International Women’s day for the women of the world is an occasion to review how far women have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. This year  internationally,  this  day  is  celebrated  under  the  theme  “Connecting  Girls,  Inspiring Futures”. Equally the United Nations is celebrating this day under the theme “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty”. These two themes are intertwined to address issues of empowerment for women and girls and how this generates tangible benefits in every sphere. Evidence shows that when women are empowered, society at large benefits. Their families are healthier,  more  children  go  to  school,  agricultural  productivity  and  food  security  improves, incomes  increase.  In  short,  communities  become  more resilient  and livelihoods  significantly improve.

But women empowerment does not and cannot happen in a vacuum or without effort. Policies and programmes need to be developed and effectively implemented. Laws that empower women and protect their rights need to be enacted and enforced. Advocacy and public awareness in favor of gender equality and women empowerment need to be strengthened.

This is why the UN is pleased that this International Women’s day is marked in Namibia by the launch of the revised national gender policy which reinforces policy and programmes to achieve gender equality as well as promote women empowerment.

The National Gender Policy is particularly important in the context of gender, HIV, sexual and reproductive health and rights. In Namibia as elsewhere, girls and women are most vulnerable to HIV infection- driven by the combination of socio-cultural values, practices, discriminatory laws and structural gender inequalities which limit women’s access to services and to decision-making structures.

We note gladly that the gender  policy provides guidelines for planning and programming with focus on attaining gender equality and women empowerment as well as equal  inclusion of men and women  in decision making processes. The policy defines mechanisms to effectively coordinate gender equality programmes and addresses poverty reduction through improved access for women to productive resources such as land, credit and employment.  It aligns policies, programmes and action with national, regional and international legal instruments acceded to by Namibia.

This is a milestone for the country and I wish to commend the Ministry and government at large for the efforts expended in putting the policy together. Needless to say, the greater challenge will be to see its full implementation. In this regard let me re-affirm the commitment of the United Nations to render   technical support to the implementation of the policy.

Distinguished guest, ladies and gentlemen

In concluding, allow me to share with you the statement by the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban

Ki-Moon on the 2012 commemoration of the International Women’s Day.

“Gender equality and the empowerment of women are gaining ground worldwide.  There are 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. More girls are going to school, and are growing up healthier and better equipped to realize their potential.

Despite this momentum, there is a long way to go before women and girls can be said to enjoy the fundamental rights, freedom and dignity that are their birthright and that will guarantee their well-being.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world’s rural areas.  Rural women and girls -- to whom this year’s International Women’s Day is devoted -- make up one quarter of the global population, yet routinely figure at the bottom of every economic, social and political indicator, from income and education to health to participation in decision-making.

Numbering almost half a billion smallholder farmers and landless workers, rural women are a major part of the agricultural labour force.  They perform most of the unpaid care work in rural areas.  Yet rural women continue to be held back in fulfilling their potential.  If rural women had equal access to productive resources, agricultural yields would rise by 4 per cent, strengthening food and nutrition security and relieving as many as 150 million people from hunger.  Rural women, if given the chance, could also help end the hidden development tragedy of stunting, which affects almost 200 million children worldwide.

Discriminatory laws and practices affect not just women but entire communities and nations. Countries where women lack land ownership rights or access to credit have significantly more malnourished children.  It makes no sense that women farmers receive only 5 per cent of agricultural extension services.  Investing in rural women is a smart investment in a nation’s development.

The plight of the world’s rural women and girls mirrors that of women and girls throughout society – from the persistence of the glass ceiling to pervasive violence at home, at work and in conflict; from the prioritization of sons for education to the hundreds of thousands of women who die each year in the act of giving life for want of basic obstetric care.  Even those countries with the best records still maintain disparity in what women and men are paid for the same work, and see continuing under-representation of women in political and business decision-making.

On this International Women’s Day, I urge Governments, civil society and the private sector to commit to gender equality and the empowerment of women – as a fundamental human right and a force for the benefit of all.  The energy, talent and strength of women and girls represent humankind’s most valuable untapped natural resource.”

I thank you