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Brussels – Belgium:- “Today I will argue that we need to place inclusion and equity at the forefront of our efforts.” That was Michele Bachelet, former President of Chile and first Executive Director of UN Women as she addressed high-level representatives from the UN, the EU, the global business community, civil society and developing countries at the Sustainable Energy for All hosted in Brussels by the European Commission.
Stressing her organization’s support of UN Secretary General’s initiative on Sustainable Energy and its targeted and interrelated goals of achieving universal access to modern energy services; the doubling of the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and the doubling of the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030, Madame Bachelet underscored the importance of empowering people to ensure they make sustainable choices. “The problem, she noted “is not unsustainable choices but a lack of choices in the first place.” A case that she said is especially true for women and girls.
Charged with meeting the needs of the world’s women in addressing gender equality and empowerment of women as head of UN Women, she wasted no time in reminding participants that while 1.3 billion continue to live on earth without basic access to energy services with many continue to relying on traditional use of biomass for cooking and others depending on wood, animal waste, and coal, poor women particularly in rural areas continue to suffer from this inhuman condition. “They are on the frontlines. They bear primary responsibility for ensuring and sustaining their household’s needs for energy, food and water. They are overworked and under-paid, if paid at all, and have very few choices.”
Noting the unjust conditions under which women and girls live daily notably in Africa where many are forced to go to sleep so early, with no light to read by, no way to charge a mobile phone or to use electrical appliances, she called on governments not only “to deliver on their international commitments to eradicate poverty, to promote human rights and human security, and to advance gender equality” but to ensure that energy policies address “two neglected but very important issues: the time poverty experienced by women and the ill-health they experience from the smoke and soot from cooking.” Until such actions which require strong political will are taken, the opportunity cost of these activities will continue to exclude women from undertaking income generating activities, which deprives poor families of much needed income.
On the margin of the Energy Summit, Madame Bachelet also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) establishing a strategic partnership with the EU highlighting both organizations desire to strengthen cooperation on their work on empowering women and gender equality.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission Catherine Ashton said “”Discrimination against women and girls remains the most pervasive and persistent form of inequality. Together with UN Women we will work to improve the role of women in political and economic decision-making. We will also fight impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence, ensure better protection of women and improve their access to justice. These are issues that need our full attention and this new partnership enhances our ability to work even harder to reach these goals.”
“As I travel around the world, I can see that women are the agents of change. There will be no human and economic development without a sound respect of women’s rights and conditions. This is a fundamental part of the development policy that I wish to champion. I’m convinced that this partnership will take our collaboration with UN Women to a new level, ensuring more efficiency and better support to women all over the world” said Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs.
For her part, UN Women Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director Michelle Bachelet noted that “The full participation of women strengthens democracy, peace and sustainable development globally. By signing this strategic partnership, the European Union and UN Women reaffirms their strong commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment. This partnership builds on on-going collaboration in several areas of work. The EU is a very important partner to UN Women and the MoU will enhance our co-operation on policies and programmes which make a difference in the lives of millions of women and girls worldwide.”
Cooperation will primarily focus on ensuring women’s representation in decision- making in the fields of economics, politics and justice worldwide, as well as better access for women to work and social opportunities. The partnership will see the two organisations coming together to take action on combating sexual and gender-based violence. This will include a commitment to provide more support and protection to survivors of violence and increasing access to support and services for those women affected.
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