Sustainable development depends on women's empowerment

av Solveig Horne, ,
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Congratulations on the The International Women's Day. First of all, I would like to thank the organizers for hosting this event.

The 8th of March is a day to celebrate the achievements that have been made for girls and women both in Norway and globally. It is also a day to discuss the challenges that remain and how to move the agenda forward.

Last fall,  when war, violent extremism, climate crisis and refugee flows set the political agenda, the world's states managed to agree on a common way forward: the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

- It is a global commitment to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. 
- It is a global commitment to strengthen women's rights and position. 
- And it is a global commitment towards recognizing fully women's role in development.

The SDGs make it imperative to strengthen our efforts for gender equality. Gender equality is not only a stand-alone goal, it is key to achieving other goals. The targets are ambitious. To reach them we must make use of women's resources and talents.

Sustainable development depends on women's empowerment. Girls and women must have equal access to education, jobs and decision making. We also need to make sure that women and girls with disabilities and those belonging to ethnic minorities are not left behind.

All over the world, women do not have the same rights as men to participate fully in society. Women and girls all over the world still suffer from serious human rights violations.

Even in Norway, which is among the most gender equal countries in the world, we face challenges. Gender based violence continues to be a problem. Choices of education and careers remain gender traditional. Fewer women than men become entrepreneurs and executives in the business sector.

The Sustainable Development Goals will be important in Norway's efforts for gender equality and women's empowerment, both nationally and in our international cooperation.

So - what needs to be done to reach our global goals by 2030?

In my view, there are three important steps to achieve gender equality:

First and foremost: Education is the most important investment we can make to empower women, whether in Norway, Pakistan or in the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. Education is the way out of poverty. It also has significant health gains; it prevents child marriages and early pregnancies. Education gives women a better and stronger position to make decisions for their families, communities and countries.

This is why Norway has made education - and especially education for girls - a top priority in our development cooperation.

It is vital that girls not only start school, but also complete their education and enjoy equal access to the labour market.

In Norway, there are more girls than boys who complete higher education. However, gender traditional choices of education is a challenge. It is also a challenge to include immigrant women in working life.

Secondly: All women have the right to a life without violence. Today, in some countries, 7 out of 10 women experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetime. More than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not punishable. Over 60 million girls are child brides - married off before their 18th birthday.

With more refugees in the world than ever since the Second World War, female migrants live with an especially high risk of violence.

Norway is strongly committed to combatting all forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child and forced marriage.

In Norway, violence against women is one of our biggest gender equality challenges. Many women are victims of violence in the very place where they should feel safe - in their own homes. Domestic violence is high on the Government's agenda.

Every woman must be in a position to decide for herself if she wants children, when and how many children she wants. Access to sexual education, birth control and safe abortions will pave the way for sustainable development.

We can never accept that religion and so-called traditional values are used as an excuse to deprive women of their rights. We cannot accept that more than 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Sexual rights and the right to abortion is central to women's and girls' ability to have control over their own bodies and lives.

Thirdly: To achieve gender equality and end gender based violence, men and boys must be part of the solution. Men have a crucial role to play as fathers, brothers, friends, decision makers, and community and opinion leaders.

In Norway, we have come a long way. In most families, caring for children is a shared responsibility between mothers and fathers. This leads to more equal parenthood and more equal opportunities for women in working life.

We need strong and visible male role models. We need men who engage in the discussion about women's rights and take a clear stand for gender equality.

To reach our common goals, we need to involve those who represent the future. Youth must be encouraged to participate in democratic processes and the development of society.

In Norway, we have a long tradition for involving civil society and youth organizations in decision making. We do this because we think it leads to better decisions. It was a pleasure for me to participate at the ECOSOC Youth Forum together with a youth delegation one month ago to discuss how young people can contribute to the realization of the SDGs.

The Sustainable Development Goals are the result of a massive democratic mobilization. Civil society organizations will continue to be important partners in our work to reach our common goals towards 2030.

Next week, I will lead the official Norwegian delegation to the 60th meeting of the United Nations Commission on the status of Women. I hope this meeting will contribute to moving us towards a world where being born a girl gives you the same opportunities as your brothers.

Today, we are here to celebrate the International Women's Day - the 8th of March. It is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But it is also a day to call for change and to reflect on how to ensure women's rights in the implementation of the SDGs - to make sure no girl is left behind.  

Thank you.

Utskrift frå VIRKSOMME ORD
Institutt for informasjons- og medievitskap, Universitetet i Bergen