Sustainable Development Goals Towards a Better Future - Queen Mathilda's Speech

February 12, 2019

Queen Mathilda interacting with youth during a visit to Mozambique - @Ouri Pota – UN News

Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of The Belgians visited Mozambique from February 3 to 7, 2019, in her capacity as an Advocate for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Queen met with Government Offcials, NGOs and communities. The following is a speech the Queen delieved to University Students at Eduardo Mondlane University, one of the mail public institutions of higher learning in the country.


Your Excellency Mr. Adriano Maleiane

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Caros Estudantes,

I wish to thank Mozambique for its kind hospitality.  It is a pleasure for me to address this distinguished audience, in my capacity as Advocate for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

The Secretary General of the UN has appointed a number of SDG Advocates to promote these goals. I am happy to share this responsibility with, among others, a distinguished Mozambican, Mrs. Graça Machel.

The 17 SDGs are part of Agenda 2030, which the Members of the UN adopted unanimously in 2015. It is an ambitious universal roadmap for the eradication of poverty, the reduction of inequality, the construction of sustainable societies and the restoration of the health of our planet.

With limited resources, it is difficult to choose between different needs, or between short-term needs and long-term vision. The most important message of the SDGs is that there need be no contradiction or competition between economic growth and social and environmental investments. On the contrary, the Secretary General of the United Nations has recently said that eradicating poverty by 2030 will require double-digit growth in Africa and steep reductions in inequality.

However, we do need new ways of looking at economic development, new patterns of consumption and circular use of natural resources. Likewise, we need a new understanding of the positive contribution that social investments make to the economy.

Beyond the immediate challenges, policy makers must remain steadfast in advancing long-term development strategies in a coherent fashion. More than ever, we need visionary leadership.

Our world is increasingly interconnected and interdependent. So, Agenda 2030 is based on solidarity. Solidarity between countries and regions, cities and rural areas. Ending poverty and hunger, and building peaceful and equitable societies will not only benefit the countries directly concerned, but will also reduce the risks of tensions or movements of population, which can have broader repercussions. Fighting climate change, especially in industrialized countries, will benefit the entire planet. Failing to do so will have dramatic consequences, even in countries that have contributed very little to global warming, such as Mozambique. The same is true for restoring the health of the oceans and rolling back the loss of biodiversity. That is particularly important for Mozambique, with its 2,500 kilometers of coast.

If we are to achieve these goals by 2030, we need to accelerate and intensify our efforts.

Obviously, governments have an important role to play in the implementation of the SDGs. I had an interesting conversation about this with your President. I am more aware now of the magnitude of the task. For instance, Agenda 2030 has rightly pointed to the need to use updated quantitative and qualitative data to measure progress and gaps, so that no one is left behind. Even simple data creation and collection requires huge efforts.

But Agenda 2030 also requires citizens, civil society, academia, scientists, philanthropic organizations, and the private sector to work together to achieve the goals. Ownership and participation are key. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, to raise awareness of the importance of the SDGs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear students,

That is why I am very pleased to address you today, here at Eduardo Mondlane University - especially you young people.  For you are the leaders of the future. You are connected, and you are open to change. Make the SDGs your goals. Millions of other people out there – young, and not so young – share your concerns for a better world. Thanks to the new technologies, communication is simple. Information can easily be shared. Universities such as this one can become active partners in promoting the SDGs. Furthermore, you can make a major contribution to the development of new ideas about the goals. Entrepreneurs and other opinion formers can do the same, using their own channels of information and networks.

For young people to fulfill their aspirations and become active citizens, quality education is essential. We know that great progress has been achieved globally in school enrolment, of both boys and girls, at elementary school level.

But we also know that progress has been slower, in particular for girls, at secondary level. Numbers are not enough though. In a fast-changing world, too many education systems are not delivering on their promises. Too often, young people leave school without basic skills.

Or without the skills that would help them find decent jobs and lead a productive and creative life. To turn this situation around, we need to invest more in education, to ensure we leave no one behind. In particular, we need to invest more in raising the quality of teachers. They need to be motivated, responsible and well trained. They also need to be recognized and supported in their efforts. At the same time, new forms of work are developing. The jobs of tomorrow will not be the jobs of today. Schools must prepare students for these new challenges. They must teach them the skills they will need to find employment.

With this in mind, the World Bank has drawn up a Human Capital Index for each country. These indexes have contributed to raising awareness of the need to invest in human capital. In other words, to invest in health and quality education. I was happy to note that, in 2017, the Human Capital Index for Mozambique was higher than expected for its income level.

But children cannot benefit properly from schooling if they are not healthy. It is essential to prevent malnutrition and stunting. We must ensure balanced nutrition and proper access to healthcare. 

Likewise, it is crucial for schools, teachers and families to encourage girls to stay in school beyond elementary level. They should be allowed to choose for themselves what they want to achieve in the future, whether it is to be a farmer, a biologist or a computer scientist. Too often, girls’ dreams are cut short because their parents need them at home, or because they marry too early.

Many schools still refuse to accept the presence of pregnant girls in the classroom. Yet we know that educated mothers give birth to, and raise, healthier children. They will also send their sons and daughters to school.

Another problem, which we must put an end to, is discrimination and violence against women and girls. In areas of armed conflict or in environments of deprivation such violence is frequently extreme.

I recently met Dr. Mukwege, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with women victims of sexual violence in Eastern Congo. These women have physical injuries, but their psychological wounds and trauma are also immense. In every country, in every part of the world, in every social class, women suffer physical, psychological or sexual abuse. Sometimes they are even killed. Often by a domestic partner. Forced marriage or the marriage of underage girls is also a form of violence.

The consequences of forced marriage and early motherhood on the mental well-being of women are only slowly being understood.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet several strong women and girls, victims of violence. I was impressed by their resilience and their will to fight for their hopes and dreams. Girls but also boys need to be educated to respect each other’s physical and mental integrity, and their right to make their own decisions. We need to boost girls’ confidence in their own capacities.

I understand that Mozambique now has a high number of women in positions of public leadership. However, few countries have achieved real parity. Continued discrimination against women, be it in society, in politics or in formal employment, results in great loss. Loss in terms of GDP, but also in terms of opportunities and fostering change, and therefore the achievement of the SDGs. We must pay special attention to the rights of women and to their needs, in health, education and jobs. We must give them visibility and support.

The international community has been promoting better health for everyone for decades. And progress has undoubtedly been achieved regarding maternal and infant mortality, for example. But unsafe drinking water and unsafe sanitation continue to be major contributors to global mortality.

I would also like to highlight my specific concern about mental health. Mental issues affect close to 500 million people in the world. They can be very different from one individual to another, and from one society to another. But one thing is certain, almost everywhere, there is still a strong stigma attached to mental disorders and, in many cases, mental issues are not taken seriously. This makes people who are experiencing psychological difficulties even more anxious. Furthermore, it often prevents them from seeking assistance and, if necessary, medical treatment. This really should not happen.

So, I want to encourage all of you to take mental disorders seriously. Good mental health is part of good general health. 

In closing, I would like to underline again the importance of the interdependence of the SDGs, and the need to achieve progress in all of the goals. As I have tried to illustrate, it will be difficult to eradicate hunger and poverty without progress in agriculture, health and job creation. It will be complicated to reduce inequalities without sustained and sustainable growth, education, improved health and gender equality. Economic and social progress will be much more difficult to sustain if temperatures rise and if natural resources dwindle. Action to implement the SDGs needs to take into account all these dimensions.

I am happy to have been able to share some of my ideas with you. Now, I want to challenge you to grasp every opportunity to work together on this ambitious development agenda for the future. Your future.