Dr. Ashok Nigam, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Remarks on “International Women’s Day”

Mar 8, 2015

Dr. Ashok Nigam, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Remarks on “International Women’s Day” (Photo by: Shatha Al-Morshid)

Your Excellencies, members of the Shura Council

Distinguished panelists and participants,

Colleagues and friends, ladies and gentlemen,

Al Salaam Alaikum

Good morning and a warm welcome to all of you on International Women’s Day. Today we gather to celebrate The International Women’s Day here at the UN in Saudi Arabia, a special occasion to acknowledge the achievements of Saudi women development in the Kingdom.

Every year on the 8th of March the world celebrates women’s achievements and campaigns for the advancement of women.  The international community and the United Nations participated in the creation of internationally agreed goals, strategies, and programmes to promote equality in the status of women globally. This year’s theme “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!” rejuvenates the vision of the Beijing Women’s Conference, where commitments were made two decades ago.  Today, we are witnessing the fruitful results of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. 

During the reign of the late King Abdullah’s, Saudi women participation was heightened and we witnessed remarkable changes in the kingdom. Thirty women were appointed to the 150-member Shura Council. Women have also been elected to boards of chambers of commerce in previous years. Saudi women entered the private and public sector workforces and were able to achieve many of their ambitions. This year, for the first time, women will be able to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has taken landmark decisions since acceding to the throne to help development in Saudi Arabia on all fronts. 

Progress in Saudi Arabia is being recognized with as recently as last week the Arabian Business magazine ranking 21 Saudi women in the top 100 list of the most powerful Arab women. This is a very encouraging trend with more, I am sure, yet to come. Through support to Member States and partners, the United Nations is committed to doing its part to deliver the Post 2015 agenda, which will further improve the lives of people everywhere, in particular women.

Please allow me to read the Secretary-General's Message for International’s Women’s Day 2015 and I quote:

“Twenty years ago, when the world convened a landmark conference on women’s human rights, the devastating conflict in the former Yugoslavia prompted deserved attention to rape and other war crimes there against civilians. Two decades later, with girls as young as seven not only targeted but used as weapons by violent extremists, it would be easy to lose heart about the value of international gatherings. But while we have a long way to go to achieve full equality – with ending gender-based violence a central goal – progress over the past two decades has proven the enduring value of the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women.

Since the adoption of its Declaration and Platform for Action, more girls have attained more access to more education than ever before. The number of women dying in childbirth has been almost halved. More women are leading businesses, governments and global organizations.  I welcome these advances. At the same time, on this International Women’s Day, we must acknowledge that the gains have been too slow and uneven, and that we must do far more to accelerate progress everywhere. 

The world must come together in response to the targeting of women and girls by violent extremists.  From Nigeria and Somalia to Syria and Iraq, the bodies of women have been transformed into battlegrounds for warriors carrying out specific and systematic strategies, often on the basis of ethnicity or religion.  Women have been attacked for trying to exercise their right to education and basic services; they have been raped and turned into sex slaves; they have been given as prizes to fighters, or traded among extremist groups in trafficking networks. Doctors, nurses and others have been assassinated for trying to operate in their professional capacity. The women human rights defenders brave enough to challenge such atrocities risk – and sometimes lose – their lives for the cause.

We must take a clear global stance against this total assault on women’s human rights. The international community needs to translate its outrage into meaningful action, including humanitarian aid, psycho-social services, support for livelihoods, and efforts to bring perpetrators to justice.  With women and girls often the first targets of attack, their rights must be at the centre of our strategy to address this staggering and growing challenge.  Empowered women and girls are the best hope for sustainable development following conflict. They are the best drivers of growth, the best hope for reconciliation, and the best buffer against radicalization of youth and the repetition of cycles of violence.

Even in societies at peace, too many girls and women are still targets of domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and other forms of violence that traumatize individuals and damage whole societies.  Discrimination remains a thick barrier that must be shattered. We need to expand opportunities in politics, business and beyond.  We need to change mind-sets, especially among men, and engage men in becoming active change-agents themselves.  And we must back up our resolve with resources based on the sure understanding that investments in gender equality generate economic progress, social and political inclusion and other benefits that, in turn, foster stability and human dignity.

This is a vital year for advancing the cause of women’s human rights.  The international community is hard at work on establishing a new sustainable development agenda that will build on the Millennium Development Goals and shape policies and social investments for the next generation.  To be truly transformative, the post-2015 development agenda must prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential.  When we unleash the power of women, we can secure the future for all.”

I would also like to read a short extract from the statement by the UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark: I quote:

“More women have been elected to public office - about 21% of the world’s parliamentarians are women, up from about 11% in 1995 - but we are still far from parity. More women than ever before are participating in the work force, but women generally earn less than men and, in rich and poor countries alike, carry a disproportionate burden of unpaid care work which deprives them of time for valuable pursuits like earning money, gaining new skills, and participating in public life. And, while more laws exist to protect women from violence, sexual and gender-based violence continue to occur on every continent and in every country, often reaching horrific levels where there is war and conflict.

Fortunately, there is encouraging momentum not only to renew the promises of Beijing, but to address issues which were not in the spotlight in 1995, such as the need to ensure women’s participation in responding to climate change, building peace and security, and helping their countries recover from crises. These issues are central to UNDP’s efforts to help partner countries build resilience to sustain development results. By promoting gender equality and empowering women as agents of change and leaders in the development processes which shape their lives, UNDP envisages a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient world.” Unquote

I am pleased that today we will have the opportunity to hear from our distinguished panelists and the participants gathered here on two important aspects of women’s participation in Saudi Arabia - in leadership and economic empowerment. 

“I would like to thank our panelists and all our participants here today for your presence.”



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