Keynote address by the Minister Toivakka at the side event "the Addis Ababa Accord: Making it meaningful for Women and Girls" 

Keynote address by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Lenita Toivakka at the side event "the Addis Ababa Accord: Making it meaningful for Women and Girls"  in the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, Addis Ababa, 13 July 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first thank the organizers of this event and for providing me the opportunity to speak here today. Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls is a high priority issue in the Government of Finland's Foreign and Development policy, and to which I am personally very committed.

The year 2015 will be critical for the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights.  At this conference, we endorse the means of implementation for the new post-2015 sustainable development agenda, which we expect to be endorsed in September. In preparation, we have been working together to make sure that the new agenda addresses the gaps identified during the recent progress reviews of the Beijing and Cairo Programmes of Action.

The eradication of extreme poverty is one of the main issues on the post-2015 agenda. It is clear that extreme poverty cannot be eradicated without tackling the issue of gender equality. Gender equality provides definite gains for all walks of life, for the economy, environment, human rights, democracy - to mention a few.

The egalitarian nature of Finnish society is widely heralded as the bedrock of Finland’s well-being and economic success. Gender equality is truly a core Finnish value. One of the ways in which Finland was transformed from a very poor country to a reasonably high income nation was that both girls and boys have been educated and both women and men have actively participated in the economy, in public life and society at large.

However, I like to stress that the work for gender equality never ends. When we look back, we see how much strong women – and men, together – have already achieved. But new challenges for achieving full equality arise all the time. It is no surprise that gender equality has been and is a cross cutting issue in our development cooperation.

The new Government of Finland took office in May this year. Gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls and the full realization of their human rights remain a key priority in Finland’s foreign and development policy. In addition, we will invest in three other themes that are: well-functioning societies; environment, energy, water and food security; as well as a thriving and environmentally and socially responsible private sector.

Finland is of the view that human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, as well as the reduction of inequality must be an integral part of the new development agenda and its means of implementation. When allocating resources, our focus should continue to be on those most in need.

We expect the outcome of this conference to be a diverse and comprehensive set of domestic and international, private and public means of implementation that go beyond financing. Crucial sectors for the advancement of gender equality include equal access to education and finance, land rights and other prerequisites for economic empowerment such as capacity building, decent work, technology and innovation.

In addition, an enabling environment and policy coherence are avenues for ensuring that decisions made in different sectors promote sustainable development.

We need to make such decisions in our societies that girls are able to pursue their studies. We know that many girls drop out of school because of early marriages and pregnancies or the lack of decent and safe sanitation facilities. Thus, paying attention only to education is not sufficient. Attention needs to be directed also to other issues enabling school attendance such as awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights and other prerequisites for sexual and reproductive health. Preventive action and engaging men and boys is particularly important when working with issues relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Gender equality is not only a matter of fairness and justice; It also makes economic sense. According to research and statistics, gender equality is smart economics: it can enhance economic efficiency and improve broad range of development outcomes. Economies are also larger and more versatile when both women and men participate fully as equals.

Only economies that make full use of all their talent will remain competitive and grow. Companies that recruit and retain women, and ensure that they attain leadership positions, outperform those that do not.

The private sector is an important partner in advancing gender equality and women's economic empowerment. Employers’ attitudes and policies related to family-friendliness, gender sensitive recruitment and retention as well as ensuring equal access to training and promotion opportunities are crucial in advancing equal opportunities. A responsible private sector also has a role in investing in women, by for example putting philanthropic funding into initiatives that support women’s participation and empowerment in the economy and society. 

In conclusion, it is important to take note that gender equality and women’s empowerment are issues that do not take place by chance. They need to be planned for and invested in, in the long term.

As the last progress report on the follow-up of the Millennium Development Goals published last week points out, many of the goals have been achieved. Despite these great successes gender inequality still persist and the world still has far to go. A great deal more can be done in order to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the following 15 years, if we put our minds to it. Our ambition must be commensurate with the task ahead. Together we can do it.