Today on 8 March, we recognize and celebrate International Women’s Day. This day acknowledges women’s full enjoyment of human rights all over the world as well as the role that women play in the development of society. When International Women’s Day was established in 1911, the world looked very different. In the century since that date, women’s rights have expanded immensely: the right for women to vote is nearly universal, women are taking their seats in politics and in the private sector, as well as being frontrunners in culture and science.
The Nordic countries were early promoters of women’s equal rights, Finland being the first country in the world to allow all women to run for office and vote in national elections already in 1906. We continue being in the forefront of promoting gender equality at home and globally. In 1981, Norway’s first female Prime Minister came into power and introduced a 40 percent quota of women in the cabinet. Today, Norway’s Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Foreign Affairs are all women. Denmark elected its first female Prime Minister in 2011, the current Speaker of Parliament is a woman and there are nine female Ministers in the current government. In 2014, Sweden became the first country in the world with a feminist government, pursuing a feminist foreign policy.
However, women still face challenges also in our countries and we remain committed to improve women’s full enjoyment of human rights and gender equality both domestically and internationally.
The theme for this year’s global celebrations of International Women’s Day is Balance for Better. This theme underlines the importance of promoting equal empowerment to drive the growth and development of a country. Men and boys have an important role to play, along with women and girls.
Nigeria is a leader in Africa in many ways, and Nigerian women have broken new ground in their respective fields. However, just as in our countries, there is still work to be done. Nigerian women have not been adequately included in politics and decision-making at local and national level, and women are still underrepresented in the formal labour market.
Promoting gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is a smart choice for economic growth and stability in a country. In the Nordic countries, women’s steadily increasing participation in the labour market is estimated to account for up to 20 percent of our GDP per capita growth in the past 50 years. According to the International Monetary Fund, Nigeria’s economy could grow by 1,25 percentage points per year if the gender gaps in the labour market, political representation and education were reduced to that of peers in the region. The enactment of the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill would be an important step in the right direction, and we encourage the National Assembly to pass the bill into law.
The Nordic Embassies acknowledge all the work done by the champions of gender equality in Nigeria. We look forward to a continued dialogue with all stakeholders – the government, civil society, the private sector, and traditional and religious leaders – on how we can work together to further promote gender equality in society, both in our countries and in Nigeria.
Celebrating International Women’s Day today is important, but gender equality should not be observed on only one day of the year. What we do during the remaining 364 days is crucial. We want to work with Nigeria to make the difference. After all, it is a fundamental right for everyone to be treated equally no matter their gender.
Jens-Petter Kjemprud, Ambassador of Norway
Jesper Kamp, Ambassador of Denmark
Jyrki Pulkkinen, Ambassador of Finland
Staffan Tillander, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Embassy of Sweden