Speech/statement | Date: 2015-03-09 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
State Secretary Ingvild Næss Stub's speech at a seminar in Sofia, Bulgaria on 9 March 2015.
Ladies and gentlemen,
- It is a pleasure to be with you here in Sofia, and an honour to address this seminar focusing on the empowerment of Roma women.
[International Women’s Day]
- I would like to congratulate all of you on International Women’s Day. Yesterday we celebrated the achievements of the women’s rights movement, but we were also reminded of the many challenges remaining.
- Equality between men and women is a fundamental right and a common goal of the EU countries and the EFTA/EEA states. It is also necessary for achieving the core EU objectives of economic growth, more and better employment, and social cohesion.
- I am glad that Norway has made a clear commitment to women’s rights and political empowerment in our foreign policy.
- Five years ago this month, in March 2010, the European Commission adopted the women’s charter, which sets out the priorities to be addressed by the Strategy for Gender Equality for the period 2010–15. This charter focuses specifically on promoting economic independence, reducing the gender pay gap, and increasing the number of women in key decision-making roles.
- Economic independence is vital for gender equality, and it is one of the themes of today’s seminar.
[Women’s empowerment – smart economics]
- Gender equality is a goal in itself. It is also smart economics.
- Numerous studies have found that investment in gender equality accelerates development and economic growth. This means investing in girls’ and women’s health and in education, increasing the participation of women in the workforce and promoting women’s financial independence.
- I am proud to represent a Government where the prime minister, the minister of finance, and the minister of defence are all women; in fact, half the members of the Government are women, as has been the case for the past 20 years. Gender equality is a key goal for us. This is not solely a matter of principle. Studies indicate that female workforce participation provides more economic value to Norway than the entire oil and gas sector.
- If women and men had equal economic rights, equal access to credit and education, and equal opportunities to participate in the labour market, the economic gain worldwide would be considerable. Figures from the World Bank show that productivity would increase by at least 3 %, and by as much as 25 % in certain countries.
- Other studies have found that for every year a girl stays in school, her earning capacity increases by 10–20 %. These are impressive figures.
- In our development policy, we therefore continue to invest significantly in girls’ education. 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 it needs to succeed in the global economy.
- Leaving half of the population outside the labour market is simply bad economics. In order to encourage broader participation of women in the workforce, we need to expand the opportunities for women to make non-traditional choices, to break stereotypes, and to create the success stories that will inspire the next generation.
- Norway and Bulgaria have long enjoyed good relations. When Norway became fully independent in 1905, one of the first missions abroad was a Consulate in Varna, established in 1906.
- The Norwegian diplomat, explorer and humanist Fridtjof Nansen played an important role in strengthening relations between our two countries. Many people in Bulgaria still remember the Nansen passports that enabled thousands of Bulgarians to return home after World War I. And I have even learned that one of Sofia’s main streets has been named after Nansen in recognition of his humanitarian efforts.
- Fridtjof Nansen’s strong commitment to human rights – at a time many consider to have been Europe’s darkest hour – provides inspiration to us all. In line with this tradition, we are now seeking to advance women’s rights and the rights of the Roma people.
- Relations between our countries have continued to grow stronger since Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007.
[The EEA and Norway Grants]
- This is due not least to our cooperation within the EEA and Norway grants.
- Even though Norway is not a member of the EU, we cooperate closely with the EU through the EEA Agreement and Schengen. The EEA Agreement allows Norway to participate in the internal market, and provides for the inclusion of EU legislation covering the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital throughout the EEA.
- But the EEA Agreement is not just about trade and economic relations. It is also about our joint responsibility for Europe’s common future. Within the framework of the EEA Agreement, we seek to supplement the wider EU efforts to reduce social and economic disparities and to promote democracy, stability and prosperity across the continent.
- Through the EEA and Norway Grants, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway contributed a total of 1.8 billion euros for the period 2009–2014 to help reduce social and economic disparities in 16 EU member states.
- Funding under the Grants is channelled through 150 programmes – and thousands of projects – in 16 beneficiary countries. All programmes that are supported must adhere to standards for human rights, good governance, sustainable development and gender equality. In addition, specific attention is being given to the inclusion of minorities and vulnerable groups, in particular the Roma.
- Many of the programmes are designed to combat discrimination and racism, and to promote tolerance and multicultural awareness. Progress in these core areas is crucial to achieving the overall objectives of the Grants.
- Norway and Bulgaria are currently cooperating on programmes for green industry innovation, energy efficiency and renewable energy, water management and biodiversity, capacity building and institutional co-operation, decent work, and scholarships.
- In many of these areas, partnerships have been established between Norwegian institutions and NGOs and their counterparts in Bulgaria. These partnerships are highly valued. They contribute to the transfer of skills and knowledge, often among highly skilled technical specialists, to the benefit of both countries.
- As we approach the next period for the EEA and Norway Grants, it is my hope that relations between Bulgaria and Norway will continue to deepen and grow.
- The Open Society Institute, which is represented here today, manages the NGO Fund under the EEA and Norway Grants in Bulgaria. This is an important programme for promoting women’s empowerment. Several of the other programmes also focus on Roma inclusion.
- We as donors, like the different stakeholders gathered here today, share a concern for the fate of the 10–12 million Roma people in Europe. The conditions for many Roma are shocking: one in three is unemployed, 20 % are not covered by health insurance, and 90 % are living below national poverty lines.
- Roma inclusion is thus crucial in any attempt to improve social and economic cohesion in the beneficiary state. We believe that women should be at the forefront of this effort.
[Roma empowerment under the EEA and Norway Grants – How and why?]
- Norway is the second largest donor for Roma inclusion, after the EU. This strategic position, however, entails a strong responsibility when shaping policies and providing funds.
- For the period 2009–2014, we allocated over 35 million euros to more than 50 relevant programmes in 9 beneficiary countries. The amount of support for Roma inclusion is expected to grow as these programmes are implemented. To date, an estimated 8 million euros have been disbursed to 196 projects that promote Roma inclusion.
- The main beneficiary countries in this context are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and the Slovak Republic. In Bulgaria, 41 projects, with a total allocation of 7.7 million euros, focus on the empowerment of the Roma population. So far, 2.2 million euros have been disbursed.
- Our experience shows that investing in Roma empowerment works. Among activists working to promote Roma inclusion, it is common knowledge that it is women who bring about change and who are the main players when it comes to civic participation.
- Empowerment of women has proved to be an effective way of strengthening communities, with ripple effects in many areas – from reduced child mortality to improved school attendance and increased household income.
- When it comes to empowering Roma women, we promote a twofold approach, combining the perspective of fundamental rights with that of socio-economic inclusion.
- We focus our support within specific sectors, such as children and youth at risk, public health, domestic and gender-based violence, cultural heritage and cultural diversity, research, Schengen cooperation, judicial capacity building and correctional services.
- In Bulgaria, we are building day-care centres and youth centres for children and young people at risk, in order to tackle one of the key issues – helping Roma people to become more integrated into the local communities where they are living.
- One of these youth centres, in Stara Zagora, will offer various educational activities, such as computer literacy and vocational skills. At least 150 young Roma between the ages of 15–29 years are expected to complete such courses. The deputy mayor of Stara Zagora, Ivanka Sotirova, considers the support from the Grants to be both timely and helpful.
- By educating professionals in other fields, including teachers and health mediators, we have enabled local schools and councils and health service providers to work more effectively with vulnerable children and their families.
- Another project funded through the Grants gives free legal advice in order to improve access to justice for the Roma population.
- We are also supporting Roma visibility in the media. In a project run by DARIK radio, over 50 weekly anti-discrimination programmes have been aired, addressing topics such as racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. We are also providing radio internships for five young Roma, to help them prepare for a career in the media.
- Finally, the national television series featuring stories from the Roma world’ gives a voice to the different perspectives of the Roma people. This series aims to represent the diversity within the Roma community, and therefore helps to break stereotypes. We will be viewing one of the episodes from this series, the story of Maria from Boyana, after today’s first panel discussion.
- One of the panels here today is going to address the topic ‘Breaking Stereotypes’. On International Women’s Day, this is a fitting title.
- Because it is women like you - who dare to make non-traditional choices, and who pursue your dreams and ambitions, regardless of existing stereotypes - who are the ones to make history. We need to work together to provide opportunities for more women to follow suit. Success stories involving Roma women entrepreneurs, business owners and employees are important, because they show that it is possible; it can be done.
- I note with interest the Bulgarian Government's strategy for achieving full inclusion of the Roma community, and I am looking forward to further discuss this important issue in my talks today.
- Political strategies are useful tools, but changes need to happen on the ground for good intentions to become reality. This is why it is so important that you are here today – to share your stories and experiences, and the lessons you have learned, in order to break stereotypes and challenge prejudice.
- By being visible and sharing your stories of success, you will create a change in public perception like that which nearly eighty years ago helped secure Bulgarian women the right to vote.
- I am confident that Roma women in Bulgaria, with your continued efforts, will gain a strong voice to advocate for the change they want to see in society. I look forward to hearing what you have to say, and wish you an inspiring and productive seminar.
- Thank you!