Ladies and Gentlemen,
What better day than today when South Africa is celebrating the Human Rights Day; what better place than Cape Town where discrimination was for many generations a hard reality; what better venue than Mt Nelson where so few have enjoyed the fruit of the labour of so many, can we be more inspired to reflect on equal rights and equal opportunities. Equal rights and equal opportunities consolidated in a framework of tolerance and empathy to take us towards a better future for all. A better future for all, and in particular for the weakest in our global village, for the citizens of the LDCs. For both men and women, the two pillars that need to stand equally to keep our societies in equilibrium. We are grateful to be able to meet in South Africa, a country where many for a long time have suffered discrimination but achieved so much in so short a time. It provides us with a model and with valuable experiences to learn from.
It is a great pleasure for me to be with you. It is a great pleasure for me to see so many of us from so many places coming together to take a hard look at what we have learned and what we have experienced about gender equality to try to put it in the centre of future development strategies, in particular in the LDCs.
We are emerging from the disappointments of previous conferences on the LDCs which although full of good intentions, have fallen short of expectations and had minimum impact. The disappointment that has made us more determined to dig deeper into the causes of poverty and try to understand its various dimensions to better address them. The international community can no longer stay indifferent to the marginalization of so many countries - 49 LDCs - and within these countries marginalization of over 50% of the population. We have come a long way, for the first time in the preparation of an LDC conference, to dedicate an event to addressing the issue of gender equality. This has created a great opportunity for us to focus on this important development issue with the aim of taking very concrete and meaningful proposals to Brussels.
I am confident that what we will take from here to Brussels will be one of the major elements that could potentially make the LDC III a different conference. It will inject the power of empowerment of over 50% of their population into the LDC III´s aim of promoting sustainable socio-economic development, an element that has played a significant role in the development of the rest of the world.
The focus of this meeting will rightfully be on the link between " quality growth and gender equality" to fight the rising incidence of poverty which places a disproportionate burden on women.
This meeting is about empowering women and men. It is about understanding men and women´s contribution to economic and social development and mechanisms that hinder this. It is about identifying what it takes, by whom, and how to render the ambition of societies free from gender discrimination a reality, societies where people (men & women) will have the opportunity and means to realize their potentials.
This is certainly ambitious but we have to be ambitious to achieve. I know that the result of your deliberations here will send a strong message to Brussels: that gender equality should be at the heart of our common endeavor to rise out of poverty.
I have no doubt that you here in Cape Town will make LDC III focus more on how we can jointly liberate forces - tear down barriers, be they trade or gender barriers, into a new World Order without barriers - to empower and liberate nations and citizens alike in LDCs, so that both men and women can contribute equally to lift the yoke of poverty off their shoulders.
There is a growing consensus that for any poverty reduction strategy to be effective it has to be lead and owned by the national governments. The role of the international community is shifting towards assisting the building of the national capacity to fight poverty. During this workshop, it is therefore important for us to identify the areas where capacity building would be needed, as well as by whom and in what form, so that we can bring this to the conference through very practical and very specific proposals.
I am glad to see that this is a gathering of many major development partners, from the governments of LDCs to the representatives of the UN system, other international organizations, private sector, academia and NGOs. All of us pulling together with the the growing number of women in the LDCs, who are trying to take charge of their fate, the well-being of their families and the development of their countries, can only succeed.
In the next three days, we will hear how including mainstreaming gender in development strategies is a step in the right direction. But first, let us clarify something. Gender does not mean woman. According to O´Regan-Tardu, of the Commonwealth Secretariat, it "describes the social differences between women and men, which are acquired from infancy, are changeable over time and have wide variations both within and across cultures". Thus, mainstreaming gender is not solely a woman issue. Men and women alike are concerned by this, which means that women are given the same rights as men but also that men are given the same rights as women. Taboos have to be broken on both sides.
Policies and strategies need to take into account the local realities and the different and some times conflicting needs of women and men. They need to also be based on critical analyses of the political economy of class, markets, and work processes. For example, the incorporation of women in the labour market is not necessarily sufficient to allow them to escape poverty. Another important element to take into account would be not to overlook the fact that using the household as the centre of analysis may not be sufficient but that analyses need to go down to the level of men and women within the household. Income and consumption at the level of household is not always equally distributed.
The declining support for agriculture, which employs up to 70-90% of women, is extremely damaging to efforts to reduce poverty and hunger. Poor rural women and girls need to be targeted by policies, as they constitute the majority of the rural poor whose poverty is often reinforced through cultural and/or legal obstacles.
Finally, gender equality is a question of economic efficiency as it could increase output, development, leisure and well-being.
The task of helping 10% of the world population to come out of the vicious circle of poverty is a huge one. Furthermore, as every case is specific, we can already safely assume that we are all going to have different opinions on the best way to address this question. However, if we want to be productive, we all need to pull together. What we are doing here is trying to identify effective policies and practical solutions with the recognition that they would need to be adapted to each case. So please, let us commit ourselves to make this workshop a success. Let us ensure that men and women can work together and succeed.