By Knut Ostby

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to be able to welcome you to this event, leading up to this year’s International Women’s Day.

The theme for this year’s Women’s Day is “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty”.

We are happy to welcome today Ms. Lilly Be’Soer, who will speak to us on her work in Papua New Guinea as a peace mediator and Women’s Human Rights Defender, as well as her experience at the CSW. She was invited by UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, to participate as a guest speaker during the 56th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York last week, and we are lucky she could take a few days to visit us here on her way back home.

Following her presentation there will be an opportunity for questions and discussion, facilitated by UN Women’s Chief Technical Adviser, Ms Elizabeth Cox, who is an expert in Pacific Women and an advocate for gender equality in the region.

Lilly Be’Soer is a Women’s Human Rights Defender from Jiwaka Province in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. She is a women’s rights activist and advocate working for the political, economic and social empowerment of women. She is currently the General Secretary of the Highlands Regional Human Rights Defenders Network and is connected with the Pacific Network of Women Working Against Violence Against Women.

Ms. Be’Soer is known for many activities directly improving women’s human rights. For example, in January 2012, she successfully coordinated a peace reconciliation to resettle about 500 internally displaced families (IDPs).

Before I hand over to Ms. Be’Soer, please allow me to also share a few words from my side.
Fortunately, gender equality and the empowerment of women are gaining ground worldwide. Access to education and health is improving, and women’s participation is increasing.

But we all know that still major inequalities exits. There are still gross violations of women’s human rights and it is a long way to go before we can approach equal opportunities across the gender divide.

This is true across the world as well as in the Pacific.

I would like to refer to the speech of the Minister for Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, who spoke at last week’s Commission on the Status of Women on behalf of Pacific Forum countries. Among other things, he said that:

The Pacific faces persistent gender issues such as gender based violence, low proportions of women in all levels of decision making, under-representation of women in the formal economy, and un-addressed gender dimensions of natural disasters, climate change, food security and access to clean water and sanitation.

Sexual and gender based violence is a significant problem in the Pacific with three of the 10 worst countries for violence against women being from our region.

He also referred to a number of efforts taken by governments, civil society and international organizations to tackle these issues, and concluded that a concerted effort is needed to address these issues.

We are aware that rural women and girls are one quarter of the world’s population.
They are leaders, decision-makers, producers, workers, entrepreneurs and service providers.
They are a great proportion of the agricultural labor foce and produce the majority of food grown.

But unfortunately most of these efforts are overlooked. The rights of rural women are ignored and they have limited access to productive resources such as land ownership and agricultural inputs. They have limited access to public services and social protection. In countries where women lack land ownership and access to credit there are on average 60% and 85% more malnourished children.

If they have the opportunities, rural women have the potential to make a major contribution to ending poverty and hunger. If rural women had equal access to productive resources, we would see a significant increase in agricultural yields, strengthening food security.

Empowerment of rural women is also about advancing participation in decision making and about fundamental rights.

Action to ensure women’s participation in decision making is needed at all levels, from the family level up to the highest policy level.

Too many parliaments have little or no representation of women. In the Pacific, the average level of women’s representation in Parliament is about 5% while the number is about 20% globally. The discussion on Temporary Special Measures to help boost women’s entry in parliament and other elected positions has been seen as controversial by some.

But I believe the question should not be controversial – it is relatively simple: If you see that something is not working, then you need to make a special effort to make it right again.

For example, if I have a health problem, I may need to take some medicine over a short time to get the body back on track. And after that, I will not need the medicine any more but the body is able to take care of itself through its normal functions. But if I don’t take the medicine, it may never get back on track.

We all agree of the need to improve women’s participation in decision making. The proportion of women in Parliaments is but one aspect, and we will need to work hard at all levels towards the goal of equal opportunities and participation.

Anyway, I did not wish to make this a long speech but only wanted to introduce today’s main speaker.

Again, I would like to warmly welcome Ms. Lilly Be’Soer, and I want to thank you very much for sharing your time, your experiences and your thoughts with us today.

Thank you very much.

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