President Sirleaf on Progress, Challenges and Prospects at Women's Gathering in Valencia - Spain

Monday, 30th November -0001
Valencia, Spain - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Saturday,March 27, joined several other leading women personalities from the five continents,particularly from Africa, at the opening in Valencia, Spain, of a two day meeting,which focused on four main issues. The issues are education, health care, health care, female representation in positions of power – empowerment and economicdevelopment.
 
“It is, indeed, true that we need the world to be better, as the Meeting’s name suggests, and women – especially women working together – have a vital role to play,” Liberian President told the gathering in an opening statement. Such events, the President said, offer the chance for women around the world to reach out to each other, to unite and to be stronger in partnership.  The President, said she sees thed etermination, the potential, the drive of women to improve their lives and the lot of their families, communities and countries, but regretted that such events are
needed at all – “that the gender that makes up more than half the world’s population
still must fight for our rights as if we were a minority, rather than that most unusual of phenomena: an oppressed majority.”
 
The Liberian leader, however, maintained that such events are needed because women all over the world still face huge challenges. Quoting a recent UNIFEM report, the President said, women remain a smaller proportion of salaried workers than men.Women, she said, hold between 7.7 percent, to 28.1 percent of Ministerial posts.Five regions, the President said include countries with no women in Government. The President also spoke of disparities in proportion of women in parliament.  The
figure, she noted, ranges from no woman in some countries to a high of over 40 percent in countries like Rwanda and Uganda.
 
Citing Liberia to reinforce the point, the President said, despite the legal and policy changes that Government has introduced, women still account for only 14-percent in the Legislature. Adult literacy rates, she said are almost twice as high for men as they are for women. Enrolment, the President stated, still remains a problem for young females.  At every level of education, there are high enrolment rates among men than women.
 
The Liberian leader, nevertheless, spoke of the progress Government is making in addressing some of the disparities. On empowerment, she said “I am an example of how women can take their place at the top table of international politics, thanks to the staunch support of the women of Liberia. Her Excellency said that a US $22 million grant from the Danish Government for a nationwide program, will strengthen the position of women in the Liberian society, in addition to their appointment in
positions of trust in Liberia.
 
The President also cited progress for Liberian women in economic development and sexual reproductive health, with the training of over 40 rural women’s groups in better agriculture techniques, to help them improve their income and efficiency, and the development of a national road map for maternal and newborn mortality reduction, as well as a National Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy.
 
In education, the President said, Government is working to improve girl’s enrolment in schools, “to overcome the steady drop-off as they move from primary, through junior high, to high school and on to university.”
 
As part of ongoing efforts to train more women, the President announced that she would this week, launch a project of Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women. The objective of the Program is to train 2,500 young women, ready for direct employment in the private sector.
 
In an opening statement, the First Vice President of the Spanish Government, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, stated that women cannot allow the global financial crisis to become an excuse to slow down the advancement of equality between men and women, on the contrary, “we must advance more in equality, not in spite of the crisis, but precisely to come out of the crisis and to come out in better shape,”the host of the conference, “Women for a Better World,” highlighted.
In demolishing the bridge of inequality, the Spanish Vice President said, “it is not the path of tomorrow, not in Africa, not in Spain, not in Europe, nor in America nor Asia, and we, the women of the world, are here to clearly say that it is not so anywhere in the world,” she declared.
 
The Spanish Vice President then called on all women and men to cross the bridge of inequality and to “burn, once and for all, the bridge of inequality, half-measures, indifference and injustice.”
 
Other speakers at the inauguration of the fifth meeting of Women for a Better World,” included Aisha Rose Migiro, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, who stated that women are stronger and have achieved high quotas of political involvement, reaching a global average of 18.4 percent.
Inspite of this success, Rose Migiro, stressed that the contribution of women to economic development is not acknowledged and that the effects of gender imbalance have not yet been measured. Women issues, she said, must go beyond gender levels –they must be tackled by all.
 
On her part, the President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, praised the Spanish Government for setting the defense of gender equality as a priority of an EU Presidency for the first time. Women, she said, make up half of the world’s population. “Empowerment should be something normal and daily. It is fundamental in achieving a more just and safe world,” stressed Halonen.
 
Graca Machel, the President of the Foundation for Community Development and wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, called for what she referred to as the re-shaping of the financial architecture, which would allow for women representation in decision-making.   Women, she said must become seriousentrepreneurs and go beyond micro credits. The former South African First Lady said she believes in micro credit for women, but argues that more women must be groomed
and increased, because “it is in your financial institution’s interest to bring women in decision-making. Investing in women is investing in social change.”
 
Madam Machel called for defined priorities that would produce strategic and measurable impact within a given time. “We can’t keep repeating the same statisticsm every year, we have to set goals and change the statistics,” she asserted.
 
The opening session, presided over by the Queen of Spain, also witnessed audio visual messages by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the actress and UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman.
 
Representatives from 49 of Africa’s 53 countries are being represented at the conference, including Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai; and the Prince of Asturias Award of Sport, Hassiba Boulmerka. The former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and the former commissioners Margot
Wallstrom and Benita Ferrero are also attending the event, while the American continent is being represented by the former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet.
 
Asian delegates to the Valencia event include Cambodia’s Somaly Mam, and Fatana Ishaq, from Afghanistan, both of whom have received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.
 
Saturday’s session included round table discussions on a wide range of issues including, new economic challenges: economic growth in Africa; and sexual and reproductive rights.
The women are also discussing issues of Education, Culture and Development, to reinforce the importance of education and literacy as the main key to countries’economic development.
 
The Women for a Better World meeting coincides with Spain’s presidency of the European Union.  It provides, in the words of the Spanish Vice-President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, a “good opportunity” to make ‘Europe focus on both Africa and women.” The Valencia gathering is the fifth by the Women for a Better World. The inauguralmeeting was held in Mozambique in 2006, Madrid in 2007, Niger in 2008 and Liberia in 2009.