Women's Rights and Equality

Foreign Minister Børge Brende's speech at the Norad conference in Oslo 9 December 2015.

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  • Violent conflicts, the refugee crisis and, not least – the persistent discrimination of women.
  • It is a gloomy global picture.
  • On the other hand, in September, the world adopted "2030 Agenda" - containing the ambitious sustainable development goals - the SDGs.
  • It is a global commitment to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
  • It is a global commitment to strengthen women's rights and position.
  • It is a global commitment towards recognizing fully women's role in development.
  • Gender equality is not only a stand-alone goal, it is key to achieving other goals. When given full and equal access to resources and opportunities, and when they are part of decision-making, women will be champions of development.

Due time

  • It is due time. Albeit the 21st century – all over the world:
  • women are not allowed the same rights as men
  • women are not allowed to fully participate
  • women are not allowed to fully contribute
  • This is an unacceptable situation for each affected woman, but it is also a defeat for development.
  • Countries cannot be constructed if we do not apply all available resources. The sustainable development goals will not be met.
  • Women as well as men must be full-time builders of nations.
  • Nonetheless, resistance is fierce. Backlashes frequent. The agents working against giving women equal rights are surprisingly powerful. Many hide behind religion, culture and traditional beliefs.
  • Let me make it clear, blunt even:
  • We can never accept that so-called traditional values are used as an excuse to deprive women of their undeniable rights.
  • We can never accept that human rights are labelled "Western" rights, that they do not apply outside North-America and Europe. To partly paraphrase Hillary Clinton:
  • Women's Rights are Human Rights.
  • Human Rights are Universal Rights.
  • Nonetheless, there is resistance to women's rights and participation all over the world.
  • This must not go unnoticed. In a study of 173 countries, the World Bank reveals that
  • In 100 of them, women face gender-based job restrictions
  • In 46 of them, there are no laws to protect women from domestic violence
  • In 16 of them, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working
  • This is intolerable. It must be dealt with.

Norwegian policy

  • Norway's overall political vision is simple, yet ambitious: to contribute to empowerment so that women and girls can make their own choices. The potential of women must be unlocked.
  • We are working on a broad range of issues.
  • First and foremost: Education is key to empowering girls and women. We have made it a priority in our development assistance.
  • Education gives women a better and stronger position to make decisions for their families, communities, and countries.
  • Education has significant health gains; it prevents child marriages and early pregnancies.
  • Education is one of the most important tools for enabling girls and women to work their way out of poverty.
  • Secondly, Norway believes that the private sector is key to economic growth in developing countries. Cooperation with the private sector creates jobs and builds capacity in the countries that need it the most
  • Women represent an under-used resource that can contribute additionally to growth.
  • Nonetheless, women have less access to equal employment opportunities and capital to grow their businesses.
  • Women are often barred from owning or inheriting land or other property.
  • Women have less income to invest.
  • It is only when men and women equally can pursue employment, entrepreneurship, and leadership, that societies can realize their full potential for growth and women can get their rightful share of prosperity.
  • Norway is addressing these challenges in close cooperation with partners that are dedicated to ensuring equal participation for women and men in the private sector.
  • Thirdly, Norway works to combat all forms of violence against women, including sexual violence, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and child and forced marriage.
  • The objectives are to prevent violence, provide effective legal and health assistance and to include boys and men as allies in this work.
  • Some have called violence against women a pandemic:
  • One in three women experience violence during their lifetime.
  • An estimated 14.2 million girls under the age of 18 are married off each year.
  • The cost of violence, not only in terms of the human suffering for women and girls themselves, but also for the society in terms of health costs, lost working hours, is enormous.
  • Labelling it a pandemic or not: It can and must be prevented.

Battles are still plentiful

  • 20 years after the adoption of the landmark Beijing Platform for Action – battles are still plentiful.
  • One prime example is the work for international acceptance of sexual rights and right to abortion.
  • This is central to women's and girls' ability to have control over their own bodies and lives. To prevent women from dying during labour.
  • Another important example concerns the protection of women human rights defenders, the backlash against civil society, and the denial of freedom of speech.
  • Unfortunately, these will remain key battlegrounds also in the years to come.
  • We must fight the opponents head on. Methodically. Consistently.

Norad's Report

  • Challenges and opportunities for gender equality alike are covered in Norad's report on results that Jon (Lomøy) will present later today.
  • The report documents progress when it comes to the situation of women in relation to health, education and norms on women's rights.
  • Maternal deaths have been reduced by 45 per cent globally since 2000.
  • Two-thirds of developing countries have achieved equal access to primary education for boys and girls.
  • I am glad to note that the report concludes that Norway has played an important role towards that end.
  • When we talk about women's economic and political participation – the picture is more mixed.
  • The recommendation is to focus on implementation of global commitments – and to leave no girl behind.
  • I could not agree more wholeheartedly.

  • Development aid can only play a small, albeit important role towards global gender equality.
  • We will not make women passive recipients of aid.
  • Our aim is to use a variety of measures, not least our political capital, to push for women's rights.
  • "Sisters are doing it for themselves," Annie Lennox sings. I am a firm believer in that.
  • Look at Malala.
  • Look at the women in the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution.
  • Look at the countless women that organize for rights and livelihoods in their villages.
  • Let there be no doubt: Norway will continue to play a leading role so that women and girls all over the world are able
  • to set their own goals
  • to define their own future
  • and
  • to fulfill their full potential.