Helen Clark: "Driving African Development Through Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women"

03 Jun 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Statement at Plenary 6: Report on Thematic Session 4 (Driving African Development Through Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women)
Yokohama, Japan
Monday, June 3, 2013 – 10.00am – 11.00am

Chairperson, fellow panelists, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to report to you today on yesterday’s thematic session on Driving African Development through Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The purpose of the session was to discuss how closing gender equality gaps is critical to addressing Africa’s key development challenges and to identify priority actions for the coming years.

I was honoured to be joined on the panel by three women who know a great deal about breaking glass ceilings and whose achievements are an inspiration to women everywhere – President Joyce Banda of Malawi, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, and African Union Commission Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

As President Banda said, “women are at the centre of our hope for Africa.” President Johnson Sirleaf called upon us not to look at African women and girls merely as disadvantaged, but rather to “turn it around and see women as the greatest opportunity for unleashing the full potential of the continent.”

We were also fortunate to begin our session with remarks from President Paul Kagame, who has ensured that women are at the very centre of Rwanda’s development agenda. President Kagame set the stage for our discussion by reminding us that gender equality “is not just a moral issue: it is a rights issue and a shared responsibility that concerns every member of our society.”

Throughout our session, which included other senior government ministers and officials, UN agency heads, and civil society voices, speakers noted the evidence that gender equality drives development. Reference was made to the international and regional frameworks promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, including CEDAW, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the African Women’s Decade launched by the African Union.

What came through the discussion was the need to focus on implementation. As Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma said, “In all our policies and budgets, we should make sure there is enough money…that goes to women.”

There was a clear consensus that driving progress in Africa requires investments in women’s economic empowerment. Many discussants shared stories of how, in their countries, even small investments had tremendous multiplier affects across a range of development goals. The evidence is clear that when a woman has more income, she is not only materially better off, but also her children’s health and education will benefit.  Women should also be able to access sexual and reproductive health services.

High on the agenda at the discussion was a call for women to be at the centre of approaches to improving food security. In sub-Saharan Africa, women make up a majority of those employed in agriculture and food production, but overall are not able to be as productive because of a range of constraints in different settings.  Where women can own and control land and get equal access to resources, credit, and agricultural extension services, their contribution to production and food security grows. President Johnson Sirleaf shared with us her country’s food security programme in which women farmers have been placed front and centre.

The challenges of tackling important issues such as violence against women and girls and early marriage were also discussed extensively. It was noted that responses to conflict and disaster need to include specific and targeted interventions to address women’s security and needs. Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in his contribution specifically noted the importance of incorporating women’s perspectives in conflict prevention and peace building processes and when formulating disaster risk reduction strategies.

Many panelists and discussants remarked on the importance of having a critical mass of women in decision-making positions. Measures to bring more women into positions of influence require more than the elimination of discriminatory practices. Affirmative measures need to be taken to advance women’s participation in the political and other decision-making spheres.

At this discussion, there was a clear view that the TICAD process can help drive gender equality and women’s empowerment. There was also a strong call in our session yesterday for TICAD to engage actively with women leaders and civil society groups across Africa.

Yesterday’s thematic session on gender equality in Africa has great resonance with the debates now underway on the post-2015 development framework. The high-level panel – of which President Johnson-Sirleaf was a Co-Chair – came out with its report just two days ago. It identifies the need to address violence against women and girls, empower women economically -  through equal access to financial services, land, and other assets, and  empower women to take on leadership roles in public life.

These are the same issues discussed in yesterday’s session as critical to development.  Now is the time to move from rhetoric to action. That will require concrete plans with measurable outcomes and sufficient funding.

I understand that this is the first time that TICAD has formally addressed gender equality as a driver of development in Africa. Judging by the political commitment demonstrated in the room yesterday, I am confident that it will remain high on Africa’s development agenda.