As the UN Secretary-General has reminded us, achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is not just about human rights. It is also a vital component of sustainable development – investing in girls and women can bring transformational changes, not just in their own lives but for their families, communities, societies and economies.
We are convinced that the empowerment and human rights of women and girls must be at the core of the post-2015 development agenda.
Latvia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, taking place during the European Year for Development, provides a great opportunity to focus attention on these issues.
One of the centrepieces of our Presidency in the field of development will be the High-Level Event on Women’s Empowerment and Sustainable Development to be held in Riga on 2 March. This event will bring together a wide range of stakeholders, who will aim to identify solutions for ensuring women’s rights and their access to markets and economic resources, and for unlocking their economic potential for the years beyond 2015. Panel sessions will highlight best practice on issues such as women’s entrepreneurship and creating an enabling environment for the full economic participation of women.
We hope that the outputs from the Event will also help to stimulate the discussion on gender issues that we plan to organise among EU Development Ministers at their Council meeting in May. We want to ensure buy-in and encourage leadership at the highest level in the promotion of women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment, both in international processes such as the post-2015 discussions and in internal EU processes, notably the Council Conclusions on Gender and Development, which are going to be adopted in May.
While women’s economic empowerment is a vital element in achieving gender equality, it cannot be regarded in isolation. We need a holistic approach, including preventing violence against women and girls, protecting their sexual and reproductive health and rights, improving girls’ access to education, and enabling women to participate in political processes. All these elements are interlinked – for example research has shown that providing girls with an extra year of schooling increases their wages by 10-20%, and that women with more years of schooling have better maternal health, fewer and healthier children and greater economic opportunities.
One of the keys to effective women’s empowerment worldwide is partnership. In recent years Latvian NGOs with the support of Latvian and international institutions have been working in Central Asia with local institutions and civil society that deal with such issues as the discrimination and violence against women. Now Latvian partners in Central Asia are developing social programmes for protection of women’s rights. In several communities the number of women who participate in decision making processes at community’s level has increased.
We cannot miss this historic opportunity to develop a global agenda that welcomes and promotes human rights and opportunities for women and girls. Gender equality should remain as our shared value and common goal in all areas.
By Ilza Juhansone, Latvia's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative to the European Union