If we want real progress and prosperity for all human beings we need to invest in girls and women. A huge untapped potential lies with girls and women. This spring, the largest global conference on women and girls’ rights, health and well-being will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.
On 16-19 May 2016, Denmark will host the Millennium’s to date largest conference on the health, rights and well-being of girls and women, Women Deliver’s 4th Global Conference. More than 5000 people – world leaders, academics, policy makers, activists, media, royalty, civil society and private sector representatives – are expected to gather in Copenhagen.
The focus of the conference will be on how to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development so it matters most for girls and women, with a specific focus on health – in particular maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights – and on gender equality, education, environment, and economic empowerment. I am pleased that Myanmar will also be represented, including by members of Parliament.
Research shows that investing in girls and women is not only the right thing to do. It is also the most effective investment reaching far beyond the individual women. For example, women spend 90 per cent of their salary on their children and the health, education and well-being of their family while men only spend 30 to 40 per cent.
When an additional 10 per cent of girls go to school, a country’s gross domestic product increases by 3 per cent. And by removing the barriers that prevent women from entering the labour market, work productivity increases by up to 25 per cent. Investing in women’s economical participation is a direct way to gender equality, poverty reduction and inclusive economic growth.
Girls and women constitute more than half of the world’s population and they contribute greatly to the world economy as consumers, employees, entrepreneurs and by delivering a large amount of unpaid work inside and outside their homes. At the same time, girls and women constitute the majority of the world’s poor, earn far less than men, work longer and are often much worse off when it comes to access to land, natural resources, education and health.
In order for the world society to experience progress, we need to give girls and women the equal opportunities to which they are entitled. This will not only benefit girls and women of the world but society as a whole.
Denmark is a country where gender equality ranks high on the agenda. The ideal of treating men and women equal and giving boys and girls equal opportunities has greatly influenced the development of our society and driven it to where we are today.
More than 200 years ago, in 1814, all Danish children – rich and poor, rural and urban, boys and girls – were given the right to free education. Last year, Denmark celebrated the 100th anniversary of the right of Danish women to vote in parliamentary elections. The latter was the culmination of a long and persistent struggle for women to have a formal voice in society equal to that of men. Step by step, women’s influence and opportunities has increased. In 1976, equal pay for equal work became a requirement by law, and in 2011, Denmark saw its first female prime minister.
Myanmar has also seen progress on gender equality in the political sphere. Last year’s election doubled the number of women in parliament, from a meagre 4.6 per cent to 10 per cent and also saw a strong female role model, Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi, take on the roles of State Counsellor, Foreign Minister and Minister of the President’s Office. There is obviously still some way to go to ensure greater participation of women in political decision making in Myanmar and Myanmar’s National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women 2013-2022 provides a good platform to work for continued progress on gender equality in Myanmar.
Myanmar women are, however, almost invisible in the peace process. Inclusion of Myanmar’s women in the peace process is not only key, it is also urgent. International experiences show that peace agreements are more likely to be reached and endure when women are meaningfully involved. Therefore, the full and equal participation of women at all levels of conflict resolution, peacebuilding and reconstruction is the only way to ensure that societies emerging from conflict are built on fundamental respect for the rights, needs and contributions of women and girls. This is the rationale behind United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security adopted in 2000. Denmark was the first country to adopt a National Action Plan on the implementation of the resolution, an action plan which continues to guide Denmark’s support to and dialogue with countries affected by conflict.
At the first Union Peace Conference in January 2016 only 3 per cent were women. However, at the Conference it was agreed to include at least 30 per cent of women at all levels of the political dialogue. I therefore call on all parties to take concrete action now to ensure that this agreement is implemented and that Myanmar’s women are ensured their rightful place in the peace process.
Six months ago, Heads of State and Government adopted 17 goals for poverty reduction and sustainable development – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Crucial for the success of these goals is the extent to which they result in investments in girls and women. The goals deliver promises for the young girl who desperately wants an education, for the millions of women still without access to family planning and proper health care, and for the woman who wants to own the land she is farming and have access to financial services. Denmark is firmly committed to use the 2030 Agenda to push for sustainable societies with growth where everybody will have the opportunity to determine their own destinies, make their own choices and live the life they want.
The 2016 Women Deliver Conference presents a unique opportunity for a wide range of actors to exchange ideas and solutions and develop partnerships that will deliver for girls and women around the world. It is my hope that all interested actors will seize the opportunity to be an active part of defining how to promote the health and rights of girls and women and join us in Copenhagen on 16-19 May 2016.
The message to world leaders, citizens, companies, civil society organisations, research institutions and more is loud and clear: Invest in girls and women – and everybody wins.