Helen Clark on The Role of Women in Development

Feb 15, 2010

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
On The Role of Women in Development on the occasion of the Inauguration of the National Women’s Forum on “Equality and Participation for Women: A Better Future for Papua New Guinea”

Dame Carol,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be with you all this morning at the inauguration of this National Women’s Forum.

The theme of this event, “Equality and Participation for Women: A Better Future for Papua New Guinea”, is both timely and important.

Just before this event you were present for the launch of the Government’s Second MDG National Progress Summary Report.

As I emphasized there, the clock is ticking fast towards 2015, and serious challenges stand in the way of meeting the MDGs by that date.

The MDG Summit at the United Nations this September is a major opportunity to renew international commitments to reach the goals.

I have been underscoring for months now that the MDG Summit needs to have a strong gender focus. That is because we see the least progress on the MDGs where the needs and status of women are given low priority.

Achieving gender equality is not just an MDG in its own right. It is critical for meeting other MDGs too.

That is why empowering women and girls is so central to efforts underway in Papua New Guinea to accelerate towards the MDGs.

Reducing the high level of maternal mortality here, for instance, can contribute a lot to efforts to achieve the MDGs for children’s health and education, and for poverty and hunger reduction, on an ongoing basis.

Similarly, providing girls with better and more education can help reduce child mortality; improve child nutrition and health; and enhance overall development progress.

Tackling the widespread scourge of sexual and gender-based violence will not only address a basic human right, but also help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in this country, which has the highest rate of infection in the Pacific region.


Yesterday I visited projects aimed at tackling the problems of HIV and gender-based violence.  These are both serious problems in Papua New Guinea, warranting the urgent attention of us all.

Some research suggests that approximately 75 per cent of women and children experience family violence of some kind in Papua New Guinea. Such violence undermines development and generates instability. It will not be eradicated until all of us – including men and boys - refuse to tolerate it.

The dedicated and courageous men and women I met yesterday working hard to combat stigma surrounding HIV, and those police officers taking on the tough issues of gender-based violence, are helping to make a difference for the better. These efforts are an inspiration to us all.

I believe that increasing the voice and participation of women in politics is critical for putting women’s issues on national agendas, and ensuring that women are fully included in a nation’s development.
As a former Prime Minister of New Zealand I know full well that politics changes for the better when women are able to play their full part.  

There are now many examples in our world of women making major contributions to the national life of their countries. They have been Governors General, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, Parliamentary Speakers, Governors and Mayors. They have been leaders in the professions and business. They have long led civil society organisations.  

But without doubt one of the hardest places for women to break in has been to elected office at the national level.

The proportion of seats held by women in parliaments around the world has been rising slowly, but it still averages only around eighteen per cent across all chambers of parliament.

That figure stands at only a little more than 15 per cent in the Pacific, where a number of countries have no women in their parliament at all.

Here in Papua New Guinea, as you know, Dame Carol, the Minister for Community Development and Women’s Affairs, is the only female Member of Parliament.

But I know that important steps are being taken to correct this gender imbalance in parliamentary representation by women. 

Notably, under Dame Carol’s leadership, and with strong support from senior government leaders, efforts are underway to reserve 22 seats for women in parliament. I am told that the required legal instruments have now been finalized, and will be presented to parliament in the next few months. 

If that quota is reached, Papua New Guinea will have ensured that around seventeen per cent of Parliament’s seats are held by women. This is still short of the 1997 Commonwealth target, adopted by Papua New Guinea, of having thirty per cent of women in political decision-making levels by 2015. Nonetheless, it will be a very big step in the right direction, and a great example for the wider Pacific region.

As part of its “Women in Leadership” initiative, the UN development system, along with other national and bilateral partners, has provided technical support to this process, including through a technical working group co-chaired by the UN Resident Co-ordinator in Papua New Guinea.

Moving forward, the UN development system remains committed to continue working closely with Dame Carol and her Department to increase the participation of women in decision-making at all levels in Papua New Guinea.

For example, we will be happy to support the preparation of women candidates for the 2012 elections and for taking on leadership positions at national, provincial, and local levels of government.

2010 marks fifteen years since the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted at the major United Nations women’s conference in China.
That landmark document defined two strategic objectives concerning women in power and decision-making : to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making, and to increase women’s capacity to participate in decision making and leadership.
Yet, still too many women in Papua New Guinea, and elsewhere, face economic, political, and social barriers hampering their equal political participation.

Men and women, at all levels of society, need to commit to break down these barriers, and ensure that all citizens can enjoy the benefits which development brings.  This includes providing more women with the opportunity to serve and lead in the highest offices if the land.

The UN development system stands ready to support the Government and the peoples of Papua New Guinea in strengthening legislation and implementing policies aimed at empowering women.

As one long supported by other women and men to break glass ceilings and go where few others have gone before, I know how important it is for the ladder of opportunity to be extended to current and future generations of women.

I hope that this National Women’s Forum will encourage even more concerted efforts to advance the role of women in development in Papua New Guinea.

That will make a huge contribution to ensuring an even better future for all Papua New Guineans, women, men, and children.

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