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Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
In understand you have had a fruitful debate.
In Norway, we know from our own experience that getting women into the workforce is good politics – and actually, really smart politics.
Our societies simply cannot prosper without the full participation of the female half of the population! In Norway, we are proud of the high number of women in the workforce and the fact that they make a significant contribution to our economic growth and the welfare state.
The Norwegian Government has recently presented an action plan for women’s rights and gender equality in foreign and development policy.
This action plan focuses on five thematic priority areas:
- The right of girls to education;
- Women’s political rights and empowerment;
- Women’s economic rights and empowerment;
- Elimination of violence and harmful practices targeting girls and women;
- Sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Promoting each of these is an important objective in its own right. There are also strong interlinkages and interdependency between them. This means that success in one area will have a positive impact on the others. They are all critical for enabling girls and young women to participate in the workforce.
We will support targeted efforts to reduce political, economic, legal and other structural obstacles to women’s participation in the private sector. And we will seek to ensure that women’s rights and gender equality are integrated into the overall efforts to promote private sector development.
There is no magic trick that will instantly make women count as much as men, but I am convinced that education has a special role to play. We know that the longer girls stay in school, the later they get married and have children.
Education leads to better health, not only for the girl concerned, but also for her children and family. Education provides girls with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their own future. Education means better opportunities for getting a job.
We need a comprehensive and multidimensional approach to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment through education. We need to overcome the barriers that prevent girls from getting an education. Poverty is the main obstacle. But barriers to girls’ education take different forms in different countries and societies depending on the socio-economic, religious and cultural context. Some barriers are obvious while others are more subtle and harder to see.
It is also crucial to ensure that children move up from one education level to the next. There are still more girls than boys that do not compete primary level. The fact that, in many countries, few girls continue and complete secondary and higher education is a particular concern.
At the same time, we know that there are concrete and simple measures that can produce rapid results. One is improving the quality of learning. Parents need to know that attending school will provide their daughters with knowledge and skills that will give them a better future. More and better-qualified teachers is the main solution to this challenge.
The lack of opportunities for quality technical and vocational education is another major issue. Education must give pupils the life skills and competencies they need to make the transition from school to work.
Private sector development is a key factor for women’s economic empowerment. Civil society organisations play an important role in this context, by promoting better governance, anti-corruption, infrastructure development and respect for human rights.
Some organisations work to improve access to credit and other financial services, market access, and conditions for entrepreneurship, a betterqualified workforce and various local economic spill-over effects. We therefore make extensive use of partnerships with civil society in our development efforts.
Women make up more than half the workforce in the agricultural sector in most developing countries, but tend to have less access to land, capital and income-generating opportunities than men.
Strengthening women’s rights and opportunities is therefore important – not only in itself, but also to realise women’s potential for economic value creation in this and other primary industries.
Strengthening land rights creates opportunities for local private sector development, particularly when combined with measures that provide better access to credit.
In the white paper on private sector development in Norwegian development cooperation, the Norwegian Government sets out how it will intensify its efforts to create an enabling environment for private sector investments in poor countries, and establish new schemes for public–private cooperation. This will involve supporting developing countries’ efforts to build an enabling environment for economic growth.
Just as business activities stimulate growth and women’s economic empowerment, so too can knowledge institutions contribute to economic development through capacity building and the transfer of expertise.
Finally, I would like to remind us all that improving the economic status of women is not only important for the women concerned; it is also beneficial to society as a whole.