World should invest in women and unleash their potential for good
Gender inequality is the most pervasive inequality globally – and it is increasing.
Addressing the 15th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the Cape Town International Convention Centre today, UN deputy secretary-general Amina J Mohammed said violence against women – in homes and war zones – remains a global pandemic.
She pointed out that a report issued by the World Economic Forum last month noted that it would take 217 years to equalise the pay and employment opportunities of men and women.
“Most disturbing,” said Mohammed, “is that this number has increased from the 170 years researchers calculated a year ago – meaning that we are in fact seeing the gender equality gap increasing, rather than decreasing”.
Mohammed was given a standing ovation at the end of the speech – an honour that reduced her to tears.
In her address, Mohammed said the world was witnessing a “movement building momentum to say no more will this violence against half our populations (our mothers, our sisters, our daughters) be invisible or, worse still, treated with indifference”.
But gender inequality was still “pervasive globally in every country and every society”.
“Up to one in three women has experienced violence in her lifetime. There are nearly 50 countries that do not even have laws against domestic violence. In 37 countries, marriage excuses rape,” she said.
Mohammed said the empowerment of women was more than a social imperative or a matter of justice. “According to the World Bank, girls who finish school earn nearly 70 percent more than girls who have to drop out – and that boosts GDP annual growth rates by 1.5 percent. So if we’re not thinking about the rights, think about the economies,” she said.
“When women are kept out of the labour force, everyone pays the price. Put another way, we know that women’s equal participation in the labour force would unlock $12-trillion in global growth. And that money could be used to further access to education, health and services for all – not just for women, for all.
“We have evidence that one of the greatest predictors of stability and resilience to conflict is levels of gender equality in a society, and that women’s meaningful participation in peace processes increases the sustainability of peace by 30% over the long term,” she added.
Mohammed said this was a critical moment for gender inequality.
She said: “Our current global context includes sustained and horrifying levels of violence across a number of new and protracted conflicts, taking development gains backwards and leading to the highest levels of individuals uprooted from their homes at any time since the end of WWII. One of the greatest threats to global security is violent extremism.
“Extremists of all types seek to curtail women’s rights – the rights to education, to health, to political life, freedom of association and movement, and freedom to make choices. Violent extremists are using gender norms to radicalise and recruit, redefining roles and identity of men and women. It is for this reason that gender equality is an anathema – and a big part of the solution – to ending violent extremism.”
Noting that “our global village is truly in a mess”, Mohammed said leadership was needed as was investment in women’s empowerment along with a cultural shift in mindsets so that women’s equality is a given in all societies and not a luxury.
“Just as the world came together to support the end of subjugation on the basis of race in this country, we need today to birth a new movement that calls for true equality, everywhere. We as leaders must stand up and take collective responsibility for our current failings, but also for the actions we must take to end the conflict, injustice, inequality, corruption and ensure true inclusive democracy, peace and prosperity for our people.”
Mohammed said the world was witnessing “an unprecedented moment – a global momentum that may have begun in a perhaps unlikely place – but which is carrying reverberations in many corners of the world”.
She said the #MeToo movement is “opening new conversations, in some cases frightening, establishing new shared understandings of unacceptable behaviour, and shedding new light on the pervasive nature of gender inequality”.
“It is an opportunity to shift the tide, and one that we should collectively seize for positive change,” said Mohammed.
She called for everyone to push for gender equality.
“Just as the world came together to support the end of subjugation on the basis of race in this great country, we need today to birth a new movement that calls for true equality, everywhere. We as leaders need to be collectively responsible, we need to stand up and take collective responsibility for our current failings, but also for the actions we must take to end the conflict, injustice, inequality, corruption and ensure true inclusive democracy, peace and prosperity for all our people.
“I would like to leave you all with a call to action: to invest in the missing 50% of our human asset base, the potential of our women and unleash their power for good.”
Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive Sello Hatang pledged that the call to action by Mohammed to centre gender will form part of the work of the Foundation, focused on poverty and inequality under the Mandela Initiative.
The Mandela Initiative came about as a result of the 2015 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture by economist Thomas Piketty.
Read the full speech here.
For more information, contact Lunga Nene, media analyst: Nelson Mandela Foundation on firstname.lastname@example.org or 076 4201910.