The United Nations launched a new effort today to expand its partnership with the private sector and philanthropies in the battle for complete gender equality and the empowerment of women, not only as a necessary human right but as economic common sense as well.
“To the private sector, we look to you to exercise even more leadership for gender equality starting from the top,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a special event at UN Headquarters in New York, attended by some 300 representatives of foundations, private companies, academia and civil society organizations. “We need you to promote education. Support human rights and non-discrimination. Empower women through all levels of corporate responsibility…
“To the philanthropic community, we look to you to target women with your programmes. Make sure that female beneficiaries are treated equally. Work to ensure that their communities, homes, schools and workplaces are free of verbal, physical or sexual harassment.”
Co-sponsored by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the UN Office for Partnerships (UNOP) and the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), the forum heard speakers stress the importance of women in ending poverty and propelling economic development.
“It is well recognized that women and women’s leadership are essentials to build strong economies, more stable societies and achieve agreed international goals for human rights and development,” UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi explained at a news briefing. “The private sector and philanthropy increasingly understand that advancing women is good for business.
“This is true at all levels, from the market place to the investment community, from the consumer to the work force. Similarly, the United Nations increasingly understands that the private sector is an influential force, one which it is critical to engage… We want to work hand in hand with the private sector to share our expertise on how to move the gender equality agenda.”
She called for united action to achieve women’s full participation in all aspects of community and national life.
ECOSOC, too, noted the enormous potential of women for economic development. “Gender inequality deprives countries of a critical resource in the struggle to end poverty and attain stability,” it said in a news release.
“Empowering women is not only a justice, a rights-based approach, but it’s actually good macro-economic policy. So empowering women, allowing them to pursue a family and an education and have a career is actually giving countries a competitive edge,” ECOSOC Vice-President Ambassador Morten Wetland of Norway told reporters.
UNOP Executive Director Amir Dossal underscored the great significance of today’s event for the UN. “The idea is that we must spur concrete action not just within Member States and international organizations but also among civil society and citizens such as yourselves,” he said.
In his opening address, Mr. Ban noted that the global recession had shown once again that women and children often bear the brunt of economic downturns, with more girls being pulled out of school, fewer decent jobs for women, and higher rates of violence against women, undermining development, generating instability, and setting back peace.
“Full empowerment requires more progress in two key areas: first, expanding economic opportunity and second, ending violence against women,” he said.
Speaking at the opening of an art exhibition at UN Headquarters, entitled “Reflective Mirror” and featuring works by women from around the world, Mr. Ban voiced his belief that “when we empower women, we empower communities and societies. When we empower women, we will power progress in meeting the MDGs for all people, women and men alike.”
In the spirit of the exhibition, he stated: “Let us hold a mirror up to our world, reflect on the challenges we face, and paint a picture of more opportunity, hope, and progress for women everywhere.”