UN’s first female development chief calls for boosting choice, rights and opportunities for women

Feb 27, 2015

UNDP CHIEF HELEN CLARK IS ATTENDING the event: 'women in power, building a different world' in santiago, chile. PHOto UNDP

Santiago, Chile – UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark stressed today that all leaders, especially women in top positions, have an obligation to improve the lives of other women and girls.

“Those of us who have reached leadership positions have a special responsibility to support women and girls coming after us to have choices over their own lives and equal opportunities and rights in all spheres,” Helen Clark said today opening the event Tricks of the trade: Lessons learned on 20 years of women’s leadership, part of the high level event that took place in Santiago, Chile, on Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world.

Based on her experience as a former Prime Minister, a parliamentarian in New Zealand for nearly 30 years, and as UNDP Administrator for almost six years, she highlighted three “tricks of the trade” on how to enhance pro-women policies:

First, she pointed out that women leaders can play an important role through the “demonstration effect” of being effective leaders.

“Don’t underestimate the impact of this: women in leadership positions can change society’s perceptions about women’s potential, and definitely can inspire other women, and girls to aspire to lead,” she said.

Second, Helen Clark added that women leaders can play a critical role in putting in place the gender-sensitive policies and environments which promote gender equality and facilitate women’s participation in all aspects of life.

She recalled that while leading the Government of New Zealand policy making had a “gender lens”, crucial to implement a number of pro-women policies, including free early childhood care and education for 24 hours each week, paid parental leave, expanded annual leave, and more financial support for tertiary education—which was especially beneficial to women with lower earnings.

Thirdly, UNDP’s first woman Administrator pointed out that maintaining the hard won gains is a crucial step towards successful policies.

Earlier today, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on national leaders to give women more decision-making power, reminding the world that “in too many countries, women suffer from domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and other forms of violence.”

“These acts traumatize individuals and damage our societies,” Mr. Ban said. “We cannot uphold human rights or advance development unless we put an end to the global epidemic of violence against women and girls.”  

On average, women make up just one in five national parliamentarians. Currently the world has around 20 women national leaders and five of the world’s parliaments have no women, while eight governments have no women ministers.

Also speaking at the event’s opening session today, President of Chile Michelle Bachelet stressed that “equality between men and women is essential if we want a peaceful and developed society."

UN Women Executive Director said that when there are no women in parliaments often unbalanced laws are passed, which deter women’s empowerment, equal rights and opportunities.

The event Women in Power: Building a Different World, taking place in Santiago, Chile 27-28 February, is organized by Government of Chile – specifically the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Women's Service – in collaboration with UN Women.

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