Helen Clark: Remarks at the 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report Launch

08 Mar 2010

Remarks by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme on the occasion of the launch of the 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report: “Power, Voice and Rights: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific”

New Delhi, India

I am delighted to be with you at this global launch of the 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report here in New Delhi.

At the outset, allow me to thank the Government of India for hosting this event, and for welcoming me and my delegation so warmly to India.

2010 marks twenty years since UNDP first published a Human Development Report.

The human development approach emphasises that development is about more than increasing GDP per capita, and that it must be shaped by an effort to improve people’s ability to shape their own lives.

This year’s global twentieth anniversary Human Development Report will reflect on how to take the human development approach forward in light of the experience and knowledge gained since 1990.

In these past twenty years, the global Report has been reinforced by around 700 regional, national and sub-national reports. India itself has embraced this mode of reporting, including at state and district level.  To date 21 Indian states have prepared human development reports, and, with UNDP support, more than eighty districts are now preparing them too.  Last year’s National Human Development Report was on urban poverty.

UNDP has issued Asia Pacific regional Human Development Reports since 2003.  They have stimulated debates, and informed policies on a number of critical development issues. The reports are written by experts from the region, and present a vivid account of the progress of human development in the Asia -Pacific.

The report being launched today, Power, Voice and Rights : A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific is very much in this tradition.

Its focus on gender with the theme of “Equal rights, equal opportunities : progress for all", makes this launch on International Women’s Day highly appropriate.

As well, right now the Commission on the Status of Women is meeting at the United Nations in New York to monitor progress on reaching the goals of the Beijing Declaration which was issued at the Fourth World Conference on Women.  The Declaration called for the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity.

Around the globe, there has been progress in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. But that progress has been slow and uneven, including in the Asia-Pacific.

This region is one of the most diverse and dynamic in the world, and has made impressive progress on many economic and social fronts. Right now it is well placed to recover more quickly from the global economic downturn than other regions.

The report we are launching today provides a compelling case for accelerating the empowerment of women to lock in long term sustainable progress.  It sees equality for women as a basic human right, which, if achieved, also contributes to development, stability, and the deepening of democracy.

While many women in the Asia-Pacific have benefited from their countries’ improved education, health, and prosperity, struggle for gender equality continues.

According to the report, almost half the adult women in South Asia are illiterate, more than in any other region in the world. 

Women in South Asia can expect to live five fewer years than the world average of 70.9 years.

Inequalities in the workforce also persist.  For example, while agricultural jobs account for more than forty per cent of women’s jobs in East Asia and 65 per cent in South Asia,  only seven per cent of the farms in these regions are controlled by women.

I was pleased to see during my weekend visit to Rajisthan the emphasis being put on jobs for women in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme.

Our report asserts that the under-representation of women in the workforce has significant negative economic consequences.  It claims that raising the proportion of women in the workforce to the rates seen in many developed countries would increase annual GDP in a number of countries.

The gaps between the political participation of men and of women in the Asia-Pacific are among the largest in the world. The Pacific sub-region alone has four of the world’s six countries with no women legislators at all.  

Achieving gender equality promotes human development, and is central to achieving the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals.

·     Reducing maternal mortality, for instance, will also contribute 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 sexual and gender-based violence not only addresses a basic human right to live free of violence and molestation, but also helps stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Overall, where we see progress towards the MDGs lagging the most is where the needs and status of women and girls are given low priority.

This regional Human Development Report calls on policymakers to correct gender imbalances through a broad “agenda for action” across three areas: supporting the economic empowerment of women, promoting women’s political voice, and advancing women’s legal rights.

For example, it suggests that policies giving women and men the same inheritance rights and rights to land title would put more assets in the hands of women. That would significantly improve their ability to make their voices heard inside and outside the home.

Political reforms are also needed so that more women can enter legislatures and other positions of power.

There are many examples in our world of women making major contributions to the national life of their countries. This region has produced a number of women presidents and prime ministers. More women in power at every level will ensure that women’s needs get higher priority than they currently do.

In India, some years ago, 33 per cent of seats in local bodies in rural and urban areas were reserved for women, with some states reserving up to fifty per cent. 

A gap in national level political participation between men and women however, persists almost everywhere in the region.

The report suggests the possibility of instituting quotas for women representatives, and also training first-time women leaders to improve the quality of their participation once elected.

I understand that Cabinet in India has recently approved the introduction of a bill which would reserve one third of the seats in parliament and state legislative assemblies for women.

It is also important to enhance access to justice for women in the region. Nearly half the countries in South Asia, and more than sixty per cent of those in the Pacific, have no laws against domestic violence. Discriminatory laws need to be changed, and the laws will need to be enforced.

Changes like those recommended in the report require steadfast political leadership. They also require men and boys to help foster attitudes and take actions which empower women.

On this International Women’s Day, we can reflect on what has worked in advancing progress towards gender equality in this region, and correct what has not. We can determine to make the release of this report today a turning point for gender equality in the Asia-Pacific, and elsewhere too.

By inspiring further debate, and informing the work of practitioners and policymakers as they seek to achieve gender equality, it is UNDP’s hope that this report will make a difference for women. We are available to support national and regional partners to follow up on the report’s recommendations and findings.

It is now my pleasure to declare the Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2010 : Power, Voice and Rights : A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific, officially launched.