The UN Commission on the Status of Women is the single most important venue for discussion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. It is a meeting place for member states, UN agencies and civil society. It is also an arena for advancing the agenda, holding countries accountable to their obligations and making new commitments.
The UN has been a driving force behind international recognition of women´s rights and gender equality. Our strongest legal and political references points are UN documents such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women from 1979, the Program of Action of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development in 1994 and the Declaration and Platform of Action from the Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995.
We are here to be held accountable for the commitments we have already made. And we are here to commit ourselves to further advancements of women’s rights. Considering that 20 years have passed since our landmark agreements in Cairo and Beijing, it is disappointing that we have not progressed further. In fact, some delegations to the CSW question the very notion of women’s rights. Let me make it clear: Women´s rights are human rights. Our legal and political commitments to gender equality aim for nothing less - and nothing more – than women´s full enjoyment of their human rights.
The UN Millennium Declaration from 2000 built on the major summits and conferences of the 1990s. The eight Millennium Development Goals inspired by it have been a road map to monitor progress. Goal number 3 in particular sent an important signal that gender equality and women´s empowerment are a global priority.
We strongly support the efforts of the Secretary-General´s Advocacy Group for the Millennium Development Goals for a last push for the unfinished business. Norway´s commitment is illustrated by the fact that our Prime Minister, Ms Erna Solberg, co-chairs the group. Women and girls make up a majority of those who still lag behind. We have to realize that gender equality will not follow automatically from poverty alleviation and economic development. Rather, we have to start in the other end, and recognize that gender equality and women´s empowerment is in fact a prerequisite for social and economic development.
Let me illustrate this argument: 40 years ago, women’s participation in the work force in Norway was lower than in almost every other European country. Birthrates were declining. Today Norwegian women top these statistics. Almost 70% of women participate in the work force, and birth rates are among the highest in Europe (1.85 per woman). This change was brought about by political decisions, and by investments in education, health and care.
Development requires investing in the most valuable resource of any country: its population. It is time to increase our investment in women and girls. This means ensuring certain basic rights, such as education, sexual and reproductive health and rights, freedom from violence in all its forms, including domestic violence. It means protecting girls from early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
There is a close link between women and girls´ right to decide when to marry and when to become mothers, and their ability to pursue an education. There is a close link between women’s level of education and their participation in social and economic development. Two thirds of the world´s illiterate are women. If every girl completed primary school, there would be 64% fewer child brides. The number of children dying before the age of 5 would drop by 15%, and 1.7 million children would be saved from malnutrition and stunting.
There is also a close link between women’s participation and sustainable peace. We strongly believe that when women are part of peace processes, solutions are often more durable and has broader ownership. We have made great strides in the women, peace and security agenda since 2000. But if we are serious about contributing to the development of fragile and conflict-affected countries, we need to get serious about implementing Security Council resolution 1325 and its follow-up resolutions on women, peace and security.
We want to see a strong message of gender equality and empowerment of girls and women coming out of this year´s Commission on the Status of Women. We need this input to the ongoing discussion on a post-2015 sustainable development framework. Norway supports a transformative stand-alone goal on gender equality and empowerment of women, and the integration of a gender perspective in all other development goals through targets and indicators. We are encouraged by the large number of Member States who see this as crucial in achieving sustainable peace and development for all.