Ladies and Gentlemen,

I did a quick head count of the hall. There are approximately a hundred people of which only twelve are men. On the other hand, there are six of us sitting here on stage and four of us are men. Does that tell you something? I will let you draw your own conclusions.

We are at a very significant moment in time. In 2015, 20 years after the 4th Beijing Global Conference on Women, where a historical Declaration and Platform of Action was announced, the world took stock of what we have achieved to address gender equality. Leading up to that Conference, there was a very important UNDP train that traveled from Warsaw to Beijing, through Belarus in fact, taking several hundred women’s NGOs from 29 countries from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe to the Conference. These women came up with their own common vision called the Beijing Express Declaration over the three weeks that they traveled together through the region. But, if you take a look at what they declared and aspired to achieve as well as the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action adopted at the Conference, you’ll see that we all still have quite some work to do.

Last year the whole world came together again and signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals. The Minister quite rightly pointed out that there cannot be sustainable development without the entire world’s population being part of it. In fact, one of the slogans of the Sustainable Development Goals is “Leave No One Behind!” We have two specific goals out of the 17, which are highly relevant to our discussions today. The one on gender and the one on reducing inequality. I invite you to consider the targets and indicators of these goals very specifically in your deliberations because we have all committed to achieving them by 2030. Of course, all these global agendas and declarations mean very little and remain as pieces of paper unless we all come together with commitment, vision, perseverance and hard work to make the aspiration a reality.

This meeting is for women leaders and there are many of you here. But, we still have challenges when it comes to women and leadership, whether it’s in business, politics or public administration. Recently, UNDP undertook a study of several countries where less than 30% of women held decision–making positions. In more than half of those countries, the figure was less than 15%. In the G20 countries, it was a bit better: women represent 48% of the public administration. But, in fact less than 20% are in decision–making positions. So, let us think about who sits where: in the audience listening or standing at the podium…with a voice.

There is another important issue I want to touch on: it is the issue of gender–based violence. I am very happy to note that in Belarus we will soon have a specific law that criminalizes domestic violence, which the UN, NGOs and others have helped the government to draft. At the same time, it is also important for people to understand that gender–based violence exists in our homes and communities and directly affects our friends and families. It is a dreadful reality for too many women here and elsewhere. In this country, for instance, our statistics show that 3 out of 4 women have experienced physical or mental abuse at some point in their lives. When I say this to my Belarusian colleagues and friends, they can’t believe it is true. Therefore, it is not just about changing laws. It is also about changing mindsets.

I want to emphasize that in order to do all of this effectively, we also have to work with men. Women’s rights can only be fully respected, fulfilled and promoted when men take a stand to do so. Which is why it is important that there must be more than twelve men sitting in this audience.

We are very happy to note that Belarus has made progress in some other areas related to gender equality as well. For example with respect to data and analysis. It is critically important that we have gender disaggregated statistics and data. Unless you have information that shows how various people are influenced differently by the same environment they live in, you cannot actually change policies to equal the playing field. Another area, we can do more in, madam Minister, is gender sensitive budgeting. Nevertheless, this is not only for Belarus. It is something that is important for all the countries in the region. We, the United Nations, are happy to help you with this process.

As you undertake your deliberations, I believe that all these things can be done in a comprehensive and effective way if you consider the five A–s that I have talked about before. Analysis that uses timely and credible data to identify barriers and ceilings. A greater Awareness of the rights and responsibilities of men and women. Advocacy to change policies, laws and behavior. Application of international standards in national policies, budgets, laws, strategies and programs to promote equal rights and opportunities. And, Accountability. The last one is very important. Not all of us talk about it very often. It is about how we all – men and women leaders alike – could be more accountable to the people that we are actually supposed to lead and serve – especially the marginalized, disadvantaged and vulnerable.

Finally, I believe if you can manage to accomplish three things over the next two days, we can consider this event a success. First, let us come up with a strategy that will help people — both men and women — unambiguously understand that barriers exist for women. Second, we must try to dispel men’s fears and stereotypes regarding women. Finally, let us help build an effective platform for women to speak up with confidence about their challenges, dreams, hopes, aspirations and rights.

We need to do this, not only for the women of the world, but for all of us – men, women and children. And we have to do it together! With climate change threatening our very existence, with economic crisis obliterating the development gains of the last decades and the scourge of war uprooting 65 million refugees from their homes, it is a ludicrous idea that we can save this planet and people with just a half of our people leading the way.

Thank you very much!  

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