Women’s rights in Norwegian foreign policy

Dear participants,

It is a great pleasure for me to open this important conference.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Børge Brende, has asked me to convey his greetings to the organisers of the conference and to the participants here today.

He was looking forward to being here with you today, but had to travel to Washington on short notice for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.

You represent a wealth of knowledge and experience in fighting for women’s rights. Fokus and PRIO have demonstrated a strong commitment to the promotion of women’s rights globally.

Sustainable democracy starts with general voting rights for all women and men.

108 years ago – in 1905 – Norway gained independence. But it took another eight years before it became a full-fledged democracy.

Because it was not until 1913, that women were granted the right to vote – largely thanks to women activists and those politicians who gave their support to the cause.

The general right to vote was the starting point for women’s political participation and influence.

The right to vote for all women and men was a landmark that led to the development of our welfare state.

While celebrating this centennial, we need to remind ourselves that we must not take women’s rights and gender equality for granted.

Women’s rights would not have been achieved without the activism and relentless struggle of women themselves. But to fully succeed, this agenda must unite women and men, world-wide.

Gender-sensitive policies and a vigilant civil society are the best tools for upholding women’s rights.

Once they have been won, women’s rights need to be protected and monitored. We must not be complacent.

Because rights can be reversed. Some states, organisations and religious communities have been campaigning to reverse the results achieved at the Cairo Conference on Population and Development in 1994 and the World Conference on Women in 1995.

In particular, sexual and reproductive rights are threatened.

The opposition to these rights, which includes several countries in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, has been strong in recent years, not least in multilateral forums.

Dialogue with these actors is difficult, but we do not shy away from conveying our support for women’s rights and gender equality.

The world’s governments have made huge commitments to women’s rights and gender equality.

Both legal and political commitments.

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination of Women is now a nearly universal legal framework.

The outcomes from the international conference on population and development in Cairo in 1994, and the women’s conference in Beijing in 1995, include strong political commitments.

However, they have still not been followed up with binding agreements.

Instead of having to defend old commitments, achieved almost 20 years ago, we should be moving forward to strengthen women’s rights globally.

A lot remains to be done. Most importantly, the signatory states must implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the other universal human rights conventions and instruments.

At this year’s UN General Assembly, Norway proposed a resolution on women human rights defenders.

They are facing extraordinary risks, including arrests, killings and sexual violence.

A dedicated resolution on women human rights defenders is a timely, if not overdue, response to the severity of the violations experienced by these women. It calls for their protection.

Negotiations are still going on in New York, and I hope the resolution will be adopted in the next few weeks, with the strong support of other Member States.

Gender equality is a goal in itself as well as a right.

But it is also smart economics.

Investment in gender equality accelerates development and economic growth.

This includes investing in girls’ and women’s health and in education, expanding women’s share of the work force and giving women access to financial instruments.

Women must be part of all decision-making.

In a Norwegian context, nothing better illustrates how far we have come than the fact that our current – female – prime minister is not historic. And that a female minister of finance, and a government with equal numbers of female and male ministers, does not raise any eyebrows here.

Norway has come a long way, but we still have work to do.

The key for the future of any country, institution or business is the capability to develop, retain and attract the best talent.

Empowering and educating girls and women, and making the greatest possible use of their talent and leadership, gives a country the competitive edge in the global economy.

Leaving half of the population outside the labour market is simply bad economics.

It is no coincidence that the World Economic Forum has been tracking gender gaps in key areas since 2006:

In its annual Global Gender Gap Reports, countries are ranked according to their ability to close the gender gap in healthcare, access to education, political participation and economic equality.

There is a strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness, income and development.

In healthcare and education, the gap is closing. However, the gap between women and men in terms of economic participation and political empowerment remains wide.

There is a long way to go before the gender gap is closed world-wide.

And there is a need for consistent and comprehensive measurement of gender equality in order to track individual countries’ progress.

There is also a clear link between gender equality and the eradication of poverty.

Extreme poverty should be eliminated by 2030.

For that to be possible, we need an ambitious post-2015 development framework reflecting the need to promote women’s rights and gender equality.

The current goals do not effectively address the underlying structural causes of gender inequality.

We need a stand-alone goal on gender equality, and gender equality also needs to be integrated into the targets and indicators for all the goals in the new development framework.

Girls’ education is the single most important driver of other development goals.

Equal access to education for girls will be a key goal in our development policy going forward. This is clearly reflected in the amendment to the national budget for 2014.

Norway will focus on reaching girls who are being denied their right to education.

Educating girls would give added value in many sectors of society, especially health.

Norway will highlight the need for equal access to education for all. We need to reach marginalised and excluded groups of children; ensure quality and real learning in schools; and ensure that children complete primary school, and continue their education after this stage.

Gender equality is important for security.

The women, peace and security agenda of the United Nations Security Council has been instrumental in winning acceptance of the important role of women in preventing, managing and—not least—resolving conflicts.

We have a long way to go before women and men share roles and exert influence on equal terms.

The status quo is not only unfair, but also ineffective. History has shown us that peace processes that involve only the men who held the guns usually fail.

Because peace processes must be inclusive to be legitimate

Inclusiveness is, in other words, a key component to lasting peace.

For all these reasons, gender equality is a high priority for the Minister and myself.

And therefore, Norway will be at the forefront of efforts to strengthen girls’ and women’s rights in global normative processes.

We will enhance women’s political empowerment and rights.

We will combat violence against girls and women.

We will strengthen girls’ and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

We will secure women’s participation in the security sector and in peace building efforts, and combat sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.

And we will mainstream gender equality in major political efforts, such as energy and climate change.

You may know that last time Minister Brende was in government, as Minister of Trade and Industry, a bill requiring a minimum of 40 % women on the boards of companies was introduced.

In 2002, the previous Minister of Trade and Industry, Ansgar Gabrielsen, had proposed that companies should be required to raise the proportion of women on their boards to at least 40 %.

At the time, most board members in Norway were men.

The initiative was controversial; many business leaders expressed strong opposition.

Not only are more women now serving on boards, but the governance of Norwegian companies has also improved.

Other countries look to Norway, for our leadership and our national policy development.

Norway will continue to be at the forefront – and seek to move the issues forward.

We will continue to support efforts by partner governments, civil society organisations, the UN and the development banks.

We will continue to build alliances in the fight for women’s rights.

No country in the world has full gender equality.

Women, power and politics – these are the key issues on the road to sustainable democracy.

I look forward to your contributions, and wish you all a very productive conference.Thank you.

 

 

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