Opening Remarks of UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Luc Stevens
National Launch of the Leadership Academy Programme for Muslim Women in the Southern Provinces of Thailand, Santi Maitree Building, Government House
Your Excellency Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand,
Mr. Phongthep Thepkanjana, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education,
Your Excellency Mr. Santi Prompat, Minister for Social Development and Human Security,
Your Excellency Mr. Jarupong Ruangsuwan, Minister of Interior,
Khun Rarintip Sirorat, Deputy Permanent Secretary for Social Development and Human Security,
Representatives of the Muslim Women Networks in 14 Southern Provinces,
Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Most of us in this room today are at the top of our professional lives. We’ve made it. We are educated, and have risen to the top of our fields—whether in politics or public service.
It’s rather difficult to be here and not feel a sense of accomplishment. But we are here because of the opportunities that were given to us—whether it was a solid education, political party support, or just the chance to serve your community or your country.
Today, we’re all here to give that opportunity to someone else. Almost a year ago, a network of Muslim women approached UNDP and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and asked us if there was something we could do to help empower women in the South.
I’m happy to say today that officially yes, there is. With the generous support of the Prime Minister and the Royal Thai Government, we’re here to launch the Leadership Academy for Muslim Women—in hopes that women from the South will get the same opportunities that we have.
This academy is not simply about Muslim women in the South. It’s about opportunity. It’s about human rights. It’s about equal access to government. And it’s about working toward something the United Nations takes quite seriously—the full empowerment of women and girls.
64 years ago, the United Nations General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” Equality is one of these fundamental human rights.
In Thailand, like many places around the world, there is a long way to go before women can enjoy these fundamental freedoms. Worldwide, women continue to be underrepresented in national parliaments, occupying less than 20 percent of seats and account for just 18 percent of government ministers. The Asia-Pacific region has the lowest percentages of women in national legislatures of any region outside of the Arab States – just 15 percent in Asia and the Pacific. However, if we exclude Australia and New Zealand, it drops to just 5 percent. In Thailand, women account for just 4 percent of more than 7,000 local leadership positions. We must do better.
This Academy is a small step forward. It aims to put women in the South into a position where, combined with support from their families, religious leaders, and their communities, they can play an equal role to men in decision making.
We know that education alone is not enough. Women must have equal access to government and political parties. Education alone will not elect more women to public office in Thailand. Education alone will not elevate women into positions where they can be seen as equal to men at the decision-making table. That can only be done by people in power and the political machinery that put them there. This Academy will not only help these women develop the skills needed to pursue political office, but pair them with political entities in their communities, and where possible mentor them by people who are already in political positions.
Change doesn’t always happen overnight. Gender equality is a process as much as it is a goal. Empowering women empowers Thailand. To do this we must do away with old ideas and norms.
We must reject the idea that men are more capable than women.
We must reject the notion that opportunity—like the opportunity to stand in this very room—is reserved for a select few.
We must reject the idea that higher social or economic status is a precursor to politics.
Rather we must believe that wherever women have the ambition, the drive, and the ability to serve their communities, there should be a place at the table for them.
I know the road to equality is long, but we travel it together. Let us draw strength from our progress, and keep our eyes on that distant goal—knowing that we as the selected few—this room of policy makers and public servants—have the power to make equality a political reality for women.
And we’re well on our way. There are more women heads of state now than ever before and the highest number of women serving as government ministers. More young girls are going to school. And they are out-achieving boys in language and arts. More young women are graduating from university—more so now than men.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that “the energy, talent and strength of women and girls represent humankind’s most valuable untapped natural resource.” Let’s make sure we employ these resources in every Thai province.