March 16, 2015

Gender equality: How dreams come true

by Erna Solberg, Graca Machel and Kpakpando Akaeze

Originally appeared on Thomson Reuters Foundation

As the 59th Commission on the Status of Women meets at the United Nations in New York, there are many reasons to be hopeful about the future of the world. Better and more education, in combination with increased access to information technology, enables youth to demand more from their governments, as well as achieving more through their own talents.

  In a meeting in Davos last January on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), young changemakers and global leaders discussed the power of education and the possibilities it creates. Just months after schoolgirls had been brutally abducted by the extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, it is more important than ever to push for gender equality.

 Let us rewind to 20 years ago when the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action for gender equality and the empowerment of women was adopted. Since then, there have been successes. The MDGs have brought us a long way. However, millions of girls are still waiting for positive change that can fulfil their dreams. To match girls’ and boys’ hopes for the future, we need to reflect on what more can be done, not least through actions driven by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be adopted in September by the UN General Assembly.

 It is our hope that in 2030, no factors such as poverty, gender and cultural beliefs will prevent any of today’s ambitious young girls from standing confidently on the world stage. We need girls as leading politicians, scientists, business entrepreneurs and academics. The world they describe must be quite different to that of today. Join us in a thought experiment where young women all over the world in 15 years can tell a story that sounds as positive as this hypothetical one:

A LETTER FROM A POSSIBLE FUTURE

Due to my government’s priorities over the past 15 years and a true global partnership to achieve the SDGs, we now have universal primary school enrolment. Girls as well as boys, in my country and all over the world, now complete primary school and learn how to read and write. Even better – my younger sisters are now able to pursue secondary and even higher education without any social, cultural, or political impediments.

Sexual violence, child marriage, early pregnancies and maternal and child mortality have been greatly reduced due to my government’s and society’s focus on education for all and the empowerment of girls and women. The women of my generation decide themselves who to marry and whether or when to have children. Looking back, I cannot understand why this took so long. Now, we also have an equal voice and equal participation as drivers of economic and social development.

 However, what has really changed society is the way government policies and changes in general attitudes have enabled increasingly well-educated women to pursue paid work, while also having a family. You would not believe the economic gains our nation has made from investments in day-care institutions and pre-school for small children. While it costs money to provide paid maternal leave, women’s contribution to the economy gives a huge return on investment. My country has learned that resources are wasted unless everyone can participate in the workforce.

 For my own part, I have now left my position as a leading scientist in the private sector and have chosen the path of politics, with the aim of changing many lives. As I run for parliament in the next election, I will face stiff competition from eight female and six male candidates in my electoral district. If I do not succeed this time, I may go back to the business that I established a couple of years ago. Many of my employees are women who have realised that they have as much right and ability to work in the field of science as any man.

To make it possible for millions of young women to experience a reality like this in 15 years, we have to build a global movement made up of individuals, families, communities, and national governments that is unwavering in its commitment to empowering girls and young women.  We have a shared global responsibility to work for human rights, poverty eradication and sustainable development at home, as well as at the global level. There can be no excuse for not achieving gender equality.

— Erna Solberg is Prime Minister of Norway, Graça Machel is a co-founding member of The Elders and heads the Graça Machel Trust, and Kpakpando Akaeze is a 15-year-old student and changemaker from Nigeria