- June 6, 2018
Brussels, 5 June 2018
I am very happy to join you, once again, for European Development Days, and I thank President Juncker for the kind invitation.
Women and girls constitute half of humanity and they are equal in ability, in every way. Guaranteeing their equal rights is therefore common sense.
Consensus on this point was reached more than a generation ago. Ever since, gender equality has been at the forefront of development policy and practice. Good results have been achieved both in rich countries and poorer ones.
Unfortunately, we are a long way from treating women with equality and respect. As a result, outcomes for women and girls continue to lag behind. Incidents from across the world continue to show that this problem cuts across regions, and affects us all.
Let me give three examples.
In the workplace, or as public leaders, men expect to be judged on the basis of their character and ability alone. Otherwise, they are free to be themselves. That is how it should be.
But this freedom is often denied to women.
It is not enough for a woman to be as good, or better, than male counterparts. She must also look a certain way and even be careful about her tone of voice. Failure to conform comes with a cost in terms of salary and career advancement, a penalty that men do not have to worry about.
Second, women perform countless extra hours of unpaid labour every day. Organising social gatherings. Taking care of sick relatives. Maintaining the household. Raising children.
It is often said that working women have two full-time jobs, and this is not far from the truth. These duties affect women’s careers and serve as an implicit justification for promoting men faster.
According to a recent World Bank study, I was told by one of the leaders in the World Bank, countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth because of the lifetime earnings gap between women and men.
Third, the culture of tolerating sexual harassment is a heavy tax on women’s rights, as we have been hearing with increasing frequency. Women have been expected to keep quiet about these negative experiences. It is a good thing that it is beginning to be talked about more openly.
For too long, society has created a psychology that women are inferior and can only rise at the mercy of men. This is a norm that can no longer be tolerated, not only with regard to unwanted advances, but indeed in all aspects of the struggle for equality.
We must really believe in it, all of us, and the most important work is at the level of mindsets. That starts with learning to see the extra hurdles that women must clear every day, whether in terms of unfair expectations, unpaid work, and violations of personal dignity.
“He for She”, or “She Is We”: These should not be mere hashtags, but expressions of our determination to make change really happen.
Rights and outcomes are only equal when treatment is equal.
Compensating women for where they have been disadvantaged is not enough. We have to truly level the playing field and make public pledges that raise standards and expectations, going forward.
It is up to leaders at every level to ensure that there is accountability for changing harmful societal norms. The task cannot just be left to individuals to sort out among themselves.
In Rwanda, to give one example from my country, we have instituted an insurance scheme that allows women to continue receiving their full salary during twelve weeks of maternity leave. We have no problem of equal pay.
Our approach all along has been to focus on the benefits that gender equality brings to society. As a result, no one feels they have lost something and the gains are sustainable.
Development policy has an important role to play and the European Union is a good partner because of the value placed on gender equality internally, and in its international engagements. That is evident in the agenda for this year’s European Development Days.
This compliments the focus on gender equality at the heart of Agenda 2063, the African Union’s blueprint for our continent’s future.
It is also fitting that two of Africa’s liberation heroes will be honoured here this week, Mama Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, on the occasion of their centenary. Their example remains an inspiration to Africa, and the entire world.
I would like to close by wishing you a very productive set of interactions in the days ahead. Thank you very much for your kind attention.