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Human rights of women and girls – a shared agenda

Op-Ed by the Nordic Ambassadors to Tanzania: Ms. Mette Nørgaard Dissing-Spandet (Denmark), Mrs. Riitta Swan (Finland), Ms. Elisabeth Jacobsen (Norway), Mr. Anders Sjöberg (Sweden)

Nordic Week in Tanzania focus on multilateral cooperation, the environment, human rights, gender equality and private sector development.

This week, we celebrate Nordic Week commemorating the long and trusted relationship between Tanzania and the four Nordic countries represented in Tanzania – Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. 2020 is a special year in many ways. We are for the first time, and hopefully the last, celebrating Nordic Week virtually through online platforms, as the whole world is fighting the covid-19 pandemic. But 2020 is also the year, where we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action constituting the global cornerstone for gender equality, the human rights of women and girls and their empowerment. We participated in the celebrations in Dodoma this year in February together with our Tanzanian counterparts - many ministers took part in the launch of different initiatives to advance women’s rights in Tanzania. We were encouraged by the commitment to this agenda – an agenda, which we have in common.

The anniversary is a timely opportunity to look at the many achievements made over the last 25 years on gender equality and the human rights of women and girls. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the progress, which is yet to come.

The Nordic countries are strongly committed to advancing the human rights of women and girls. Committed to their empowerment. Imagine a world, where women and girls have the only say in decisions that concern their body, their life, their future. Where women and girls are not afraid to walk home at night. Where childbirth is safe. Where equal pay for equal work is a reality. This was in fact the vision laid out in Beijing 25 years ago, when 189 states agreed on a clear roadmap towards a world, where all women and girls can exercise their fundamental freedoms and lead a life free from violence. A life in control of their health, exercising the right to go to school and the right to participate fully in social, economic and political processes.

We have come a long way since 1995. A very long way, in fact. Maternal mortality has declined by almost 40 per cent globally. In two out of three countries, there are now just as many girls as boys in primary schools. Many more women have entered the labour market, which has in fact been a decisive factor in the economic growth of the Nordic countries.

Ensuring equal opportunities for women and men to education, to inheritance, to property, and to decent jobs is a prerequisite for reducing poverty and economic growth. 

Tanzania has also made important progress on this agenda: In 1995, women only occupied 14 percent of the seats in the National Assembly; today, 37 percent of the Members of Parliament are women. In 2000, the maternal mortality rate was 854 per 100,000 childbirths; today, it is 524 according to the World Bank. And the High Court took an important step towards eliminating child marriages, when it ruled the Marriage Act, allowing girls to be married off at the age of 14, unconstitutional. This is not only important because it acknowledges that girls and boys should enjoy equal rights – the marriage age should be the same for boys and girls. It is also allowing girls to keep their childhood, which is a first step in securing gender equality.

In Tanzania, the Nordic countries are actively supporting different national initiatives promoting the protection of the human rights of women. We are proud to work together with Tanzanian partners towards preventing violence against women and girls and towards strengthening the voice for less privileged groups.

The commitments made 25 years ago remain more relevant than ever. 2020 is as good a moment as ever to recommit to making those commitments a reality. Following through on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action would be a cornerstone in the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals and in standing strong against the escalating pushback against the human rights of women and girls that we witness at global scale. We will not accept rolling back on the progress made. We will deliver on the promises made to all women and girls.

This final push for gender equality has to be a joint effort. No one country, organization or person can do this on alone. It calls for a multilateral response. 25 years ago in Beijing, we promised all women and girls equal rights and equal opportunities. Together with Tanzania, we will make this a reality!