Speech by Minister Toivakka at an UNGA side event

Speech by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Lenita Toivakka at an UNGA side event "A Fairer Future for All: Fighting inequalities and discrimination in the 2030 Agenda", 29 September 2015.

Excellences', esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here with you today, and to be part of this distinguished panel discussing how to ensure a fairer future for all

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has true potential, to change lives and contribute to a brighter future for coming generations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The burden of global poverty is primarily carried by women, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and minorities, including sexual and gender minorities. These groups are over-represented in the statistics on unemployment, poor educational achievements and health outcomes as well as violence.

And in conflicts or in fragile states – as we have heard several times during these past days – women, children and persons with disabilities are again the most vulnerable. I would like to specifically stress the important role of women in peace- and statebuilding process.

Human rights are minimum requirements for a life in dignity. Ensuring equality and non-discrimination are obligations that States have undertaken by committing to the UN Charter, by adopting the UN Declaration of Human Rights and through signing international human rights treaties.

In order to not leave anyone behind and to give priority to those most in need, human rights are of central importance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The targets under Goals 10 and 16 in the 2030 Agenda are fundamental. They outline our commitment to ensure equal opportunity, but more importantly also substantive equality in outcomes, through the elimination of discriminatory laws, policies and practices and by undertaking measures that promote equality. They also very well reflect the human rights based approach to development my government is committed to.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to in particular highlight the need to address gender equality. As long as half of the world’s population is left on the sidelines of development, it will not be possible to reach the desired development targets.

Our experience in Finland shows that investing in reducing inequalities makes sense in economic terms. Our economic and social development owes much to investments made to structures ensuring gender equality. These include benefits to families and family policies to support female participation in the labor force. Our objective is and has been to ensure that both men and women can combine family life with an active work life.

As a former entrepreneur myself, I must also mention women entrepreneurs’ role in creating gender equality. After all, studies show that there is almost always a multiplier effect as women invest in their children and their communities, creating also work opportunities for others – often other women.

Gender equality cannot, however, be achieved only through formal workforce participation. We need a comprehensive approach covering different aspects of life, including wage gaps, political participation, access to justice and violence against women and girls. And even on sectors not that obvious, such as infrastructure, we can make a difference: streetlights make streets safer for women. Lack of sanitation affects women and girls in particular.

A fundamental element of this comprehensive approach is to ensure that women and girls have the right and knowledge needed to make decisions concerning their own body, sexuality and reproductive health, in order to be healthy and able to actively participate in society. Therefore, we must invest in comprehensive sexuality education and ensure access to information and services, including youth friendly services, enable young persons to make informed and responsible decisions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In Finland, we are proud of being a nation that strives to provide equal opportunities for all citizens. According to our findings, inclusive, quality education is a crucial element in reducing barriers and promoting prosperity and innovation. The effective implementation of goal 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education is hence, one of the key elements in building more inclusive societies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Although social security is not a stand-alone goal per se in the 2030 Agenda, it, in my view, has great relevance as a tool for increasing equality and combatting poverty.

It allows people to overcome challenges, such as reduced income, unemployment or sudden sickness. They can also help ensure access to education and other public services necessary to obtain an adequate standard of living.  Social security can in times of economic slowdown or crisis prevent those close to the poverty line from backsliding into poverty, and at the same time encourage to search for new work opportunities. Because after all, work is best social security.  

Ladies and gentlemen,

I started by saying that to be successful in creating a fairer future for all, we need to put a stronger emphasis on human rights including sexual and reproductive health and rights. If we truly set out to reduce poverty, we need to ensure that our policies are inclusive and that discrimination is prohibited both in law and in practice.

The 2030 Agenda is founded on our existing human rights commitments. It is crucial that we now act on our words, and start implementing this ambitious agenda.

To conclude, I would like to express my deep appreciation and recognition of the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and of UN Women, for taking strong leadership in the fight for greater equality. You have our full support for continuing this work. 

I thank you for your kind attention!

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