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Opening remarks by the Secretary General on the occasion of the celebration of Women’s Day 2017

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Excellencies, Distinguished invited guests, Ladies and gentlemen

It is indeed an honour for me this afternooon, to be granted this opportunity to provide a few opening remarks  on  our theme  for this afternoon, SHE INSPIRES, as we pay homage to  International Women’s Day (8th March, 2017), and the inspirational role of the women in our ACP countries and  in the diaspora.

Instead of speaking on behalf of ACP women, the ACP Secretariat consulted the   ACP Civil Society Forum Network, (first conceptualised in 1997; first meeting 5th July,  2001), in order  to receive their inputs on   how best to strengthen and   foster a more visible generation of inspirational women throughout our ACP regions.

In the global sense  of  He for She, my voice this afternoon shall convey their message.

THE FOUNDATION

First and foremost though, it is important that we acknowledge the foundation of this international discourse.  Today’s meeting represents an integral component of  a process which was first started  at the international level in 1975 , when under the UN framework, significant steps were  made to sensitize Heads of States to the specific challenges faced by women. Discussions    identified the urgent and  requisite need to find solutions to a wide range of severe shortcomings.

Between 1975 and 1995, the United Nations organised a series of  four World Conferences on Women. The first conference in 1975 took place in Mexico City. This was followed by the meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark  (1980), Nairobi, Kenya  (1985) and Beijing, China (1995).

These conferences outlined a positive message. Despite the  fact   that women  remained poor, underprivileged and marginalised,  the actions and efforts of women from the South, against great odds, have consistently perservered to change their lives and provide a source  of hope.

It is true, there are many ODDS which remain.

Many women continue to  face dehumanising practices such as female genital mutilation, as  women and girls continue to live in environments where there are unfortunately inadequate rights  to self determination on what is done to their  own bodies, ranging from sexual consent, to decisionmaking on childbirth , the size of thier families or gaining access to  internationally acceptable levels of health services.

In conflict scenarios, women  and young girls remain vulnerable, and rape has surfaced as an unwelcome scourge of war and political instability.

The UN led conferences remain instrumental in enhancing  the level of visibility of these problems.  

Women  under the ACP Civil Society Forum network, through the creation of organised grass root organisations, now  have  increased possibilities to  network and engage with like- minded communities under the framework of the UN and the African Union, to set upon the work of initiating change.  The platform has been created  for women’s expressions. Their voices more than ever need to be heard.

The ACP group recognise that there needs to be  a greater appreciation of the valuable contribution which women make to our societies....simply because throughout our regions, the success of our societies are directly rooted in  the strength or weaknesses of our local communities.

In the best case scenario, ACP women continue to play a principal cohesive  and consolidated role, particularly in relation to  responsibilities that  positively contribute to  larger socio-economic requirements of respective communities.

Women are daily faced with the dual  aim to  (a) seek to realise their own  personal ambitions and  (b) guide  and inspire the future  prospects and career options  for  the  younger generation,  whilst simultaneously multi-tasking  for the family (providing nutrition, management of health requirements etc) .

Female Headed  households:

Hence, female headed households are not an unusual phenomenon and attest to the significant  socio-ecomomic role played by women in ACP states. 

Within this context the ACP Secretariat acknowledges the  multiple responsibilities of women and  re-affirm our commitment to further provide  room for growth.

It is our aim to achieve this growth, through  continued suport for capacity building program  support   to  consolidate development  oriented actions with positive benefits for grass root community  activity and organisations.

Secondly- A balanced perspective

In my attempt to provide a balanced perspective,  let us now  take a  brief look at the following statistics   on  existing challenges as well as  the areas of progress.

Statistics revealing positive developments on female entrepeneurship:

·         In the case of Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Zambia, over 50% of the total pool of entrepeneurs are female.  However challenges remain as the 2014 Findex report, identified that only 30% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to bank accounts . Generally, African female entrepeneurs had limited access to finance in comparison with male counterparts.

·         Nigeria (41%)  outrank the US (10%) and the UK (5.7%) in terms of percentage of female entrepeneurs .

·         The World Bank’s 2014 Gender at Work report,  highlighted that between 1960 and 2010, there was a reduction of gender discriminatory laws against women, mainly with regards to  property ownership and  inheritance rights.  These positive developments highlight  global initiatives in favour of female entrepeneurs in our ACP states.  It further encourages us to acknowledge the scope of possibilities  which can be achieved  through collaboration between ACP governments and local communities,  international organisations and corporate sponsors.

Challenges:

Excellencies, Distinguished invited guests,

It is now time to  acknowledge that nonetheless, challenges do remain. 

The  2016 report by the African Development Bank, (despite the existence of international agreements which aim to eliminate gender inequalities) highlighted difficulties:

·         only 15% of African women are landowners.

·         less than 10% of women have access to contraception .

·         over 1/3  of women will experience domestic violence from their partners.

UN Women  and Demographic and Health Statistics :

·         35.6% of women will experience some form of physical  or sexual violence  during their lifetime.

·         Women spend two and a half time more unpaid working hours to care for their families and communities compared to men. Unpaid care work (eg. fetching water, washing, cooking, cleaning etc.) is therefore mainly done by women.

·         Every 10 minutes, at the global level, an adolescent girl will die as a result of violence.

·         In the Pacific region, 2 out of 3 women will experience domestic physical or sexual violence .

·         Up to 80% of men surveyed in the Asian-Pacific region admitted to perpetrating physical and/or sexual violence against women and girls during their lifetime.

World Bank Data reveal :

·         at the global level, females aged between 15-44 years old, face a higher risk of rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents , war and malaria. 

·         The negative impact of these forms of violence against women therefore resulted in sustained long term physical  and sexual consequences, as well as fatalities. 

These statistics have resulted in international organisations identifying a clear  link between the existence of  structured power inequalities that operate  in favour of men and the consequent  negative effect of violence against women.

As identified in a recent   South Sudan Women Advocacy and Empowerment  research on  South Sudan, the situation is often exacerbated during political conflict  when   women have no independent income. Political instability,  economic dependency, and lack of alternative solutions, increase  women’s vulnerability, especially as they are often encouraged to remain silent in the face of domestic violence. 

Economic empowerment encourages a recognition of empowering options, increase levels of independence and also increase the capacities  to send higher  levels of young girls to receive primary and secondary education.

Thirdly- ACP Civil Society Forum Network  proposals:

In the spirit of He for She, it remains my task to inform you that  the ACP Civil Society Forum have also recognised this phenomenon  and  have highlighted the need for   gender specifc solutions to  urgently adress  these problems within a development cooperation  context. Within this framework, the  ACP Secretariat  aims to continue its collaboration with governments and organised civil society organisations, with  a view to promoting women economic empowerment  through, inter alia :

a)    Creating policy and programme interventions  for an enablng environment for women entrepeneurs to conduct business and have improved capacities to engage in regional trade;

b)    Enhancing access to information, markets, finance, training and transportation;

c)    Supporting  the promotion of gender mainstreaming tools such as gender-responsive budgeting to all aspects of economic and social sectors, including trade facilitation, and infrastructure projects that address the needs of female entrepeneurs and traders.

d)    Strengthening legal systems to combat domestic violence such as beatings, humiliation, rape,   and other forms of violations of human rights, whilst creating platforms for greater involvement of women’s organisations in the drafting and advocacy of supportive legal texts ;

With regards to uncare paid work, which at the global level are largely performed by women, the following ACP Civil Society  Forum recommendations to government will be seriously addressed  by the ACP Group as we work towards:

·          The inclusion of  unpaid care work in national accounts and in the calculation of GDP;

·          The commissioning of gender impact assessments of macroeconomic policies and budgets;

·         Involvement of more ACP female negotiators in upcoming  ACP-EU agreement negotiations and multilateral and bilateral Trade negotiations.

·         Encouragement of states to better regulate and provide for social protection schemes which will act as a safety net for local communities in an environment of increased liberalization and privatization.

Excellencies, Distinguished guests, the challenges facing women since 1975, have seen noted examples of success, however my overview outlines that many challenges do still remain. We will however, take a moment to exhale and this afternoon focus on the positive, and be inspired by the presence of our ACP women, who I am pleased to see have turned out in full force to recognise the great potential that has always and will always exist....as long as we pursue hard work and maintain an optimistic perspective.

It remains my fervent hope that our reflection and celebrations of women’s inspiration this afternoon, will bear positive fruits and further strengthen our commitment to the promotion of women’s interests.

In turn, this will strengthen our common ACP destiny. 

I thank you.


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