By Dr Kaire Mbuende
This session on the Advancement of Women is very important for us because of the location of women in the structure of our society on the one hand and the normative position of gender empowerment on the other. It is a well-known fact that women are historically disadvantaged in virtually all societies.
They also represent the majority of the population in most countries including my own. Women are the poorest of the poor in our communities.
They work primarily as subsistence farmers, domestic workers and in the informal sector. Many of them are single parents with little or no support from the fathers of their children. Yet, they hold families and communities together in the face of poverty, escalating domestic violence and the impact of illness and death. It thus follows that the advancement of women is the benchmark against which the progress of any society can be measured.
Women Advancement and the Spread of Wealth
The inequality that is characteristic of many societies including my own can best be addressed through a programme of gender empowerment. A dedicated programme to improve the standard of living of women will result in greater equity as it will take wealth to the remotest parts of the country and improve the lot of the poorest of the poor. Any poverty-reduction strategy that does not include women as a focal point is doomed to fail. The Government of the Republic of Namibia has recognised this fact by promoting entrepreneurial skills and employment opportunities among women. The Government also provides infrastructures to improve the marketing outlet for products produced by rural women. The improvement of the standard of living of women through greater access to economic opportunities will have a transformative impact on our society and improve the gini co-efficiency, which is among the highest in the world.
I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to appeal to our development partners to increase their support to programmes aimed at empowering women. I would like to call upon the private sector to include women as their local partners in their investment ventures as managers and/or shareholders.
Women Advancement and the Transformation of Politics
The success of the struggle of the women for equality has transformed the nature of politics as it resulted in the setting of new global norms. These norms found expression in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action and other international, regional, sub-regional and national instruments.
We have witnessed the advancement of women in politics and in the management of societal affairs during the last part of the last century. Today, many women occupy strategic positions in governments and the private sector. Africa has its first women president and several ministers. My own country has produced a deputy prime minister and several ministers in charge of key ministries. This achievement represents but a sharp edged pyramid. A lot of work still needs to be done to have a leadership composition that is commensurate with the numerical and qualitative strength of women.
Women in leadership positions are compounded by the dominant patriarchal political culture that has defined the nature of politics over the years. Some tends to bring the docile culture of the private sphere into public office and thereby making them ineffective managers. Others conform to the hegemonic culture of viewing politics as a dirty game in theory and practice and thereby shattering our hopes of expectations of a new political practice based on high moral grounds.
Others raise the hopes of the downtrodden of the earth by proclaiming the dawn of a new political culture through a political practice that manifests compassion and passion for development and justice. They hold the promise of a new political culture of openness, tolerance and accountability. Indeed, they are the salt of the earth that will make the world a better place for all.
Overcoming Gender-Based Violence
Gender-based violence is a cancer in our society. It is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace. It impairs the enjoyment of fundamental human rights by women. It also has the potential to rock the self-confidence of women and to reverse the advances that were made through advocacy. The statistics from the Namibia National Database on gender-based violence are appalling. Evidently the efforts by the various agencies to address gender-based violence leave much to be desired.
We are looking forward to the annual commemoration of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence from November 25 to December 10, 2007. We hope that there will be no single case of gender-based violence during those 16 holy days. We also hope that such an achievement will be extended beyond the 16 days into eternity.
The participation of men as men in the effort to curb gender-based violence is important. It is indeed true that the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality can serve as catalyst to bring about a partnership that has the potential to transform the existing gender imbalances and inequalities. The inequality between men and women that is the bedrock of the gender-based violence cannot and should not be tolerated. It inhibits the abilities of individuals, families and nations to realise their full potential.
The Role of the United Nations
The UN has an important role to play in the advancement of women by keeping member states on their toes to meet their obligations and commitments. The UN is also an important venue for sharing of experiences in respect of efforts for the advancement of women. We expect the various UN agencies to assist us in mobilising resources to support our efforts for women empowerment.
The UN itself should lead by example by making greater use of the knowledge and expertise of women by ensuring that they occupy senior positions within the UN system. The organization should also streamline its gender architecture in order to be effective and efficient in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
– Statement by HE Dr Kaire M Mbuende, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Namibia to the United Nations during the general debate of the third committee Under Agenda Item 63(A): “Advancement of Women” New York, 16 October 2007