I am Generation Equality: Realising Women's Rights this International Women's Day

UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, addresses Gender Equality at the 2020 celebrations of International Women's Day held in Mafutseni Inkhundla.

A very good morning to you all.

What a privilege it is to be standing in front of you this morning: the strong girls and women of the Kingdom of Eswatini, and the boys and men who support women as the future of this country. I thank you all for taking the time to join us on this special day as we celebrate International Women’s Day.

I recall when we had a similar gathering of women from all walks of life during the Women's Economic Empowerment Forum held in December 2019 in Ezulwini. On that occasion, we paid our respect to the “Strength Within” of each and every Emaswati woman and girl, and I must say that I feel that “strength” today. Thank you for that very special, positive energy.

Yesterday, 8th March, was International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is: I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights, marking the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The celebration gives us an opportunity to reflect on progress made in achieving Gender Equality. It is also a call for change and to celebrate acts of courage, the resilience and determination of ordinary women. In achieving Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), world leaders and governments of the world, including Eswatini, committed to achieve gender equality by 2030. Let’s make 2020 and this new decade transformative for women and girls everywhere!

In his message for this year’s International Women’s Day, the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, reminded us that the benefits of gender equality are not just for women and girls, but “for everyone whose lives will be changed by a fairer world”. Despite the fact that the world has made unprecedented advances in gender equality; there is still no country in the world that has achieved gender equality.

Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power. Centuries of discrimination have created a gender power gap in our economies, our political systems and our corporations. Women are still excluded from the top table, from governments to justice systems and more. Legal restrictions have kept 2.7 billion women from having the same choice of jobs as men. Less than 25% of the Parliamentarians around the world are women. Globally, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. The reality is that we still have far to go. Everywhere in the world, women are worse off than men and unfortunately, Eswatini is no exception.

The UN family in Eswatini is dedicated to advance women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship. We want women in Eswatini, who represent 51% of the population, to fearlessly follow their dreams and embrace their ambitions.

Sexual offences and domestic violence undermine Eswatini’s aspiration to achieve SDG 5, which has a target to “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation” by 2030. Gender-based violence is a scourge that not only harms individuals but has far-reaching consequences for families and society. Violence experienced as a child is linked to vulnerability and violence later in life. Consequences include long-term physical and mental health impacts, costs to individuals, society and working capacities.

Studies show that approximately 1 in 3 (35%) women globally have experienced violence, whether sexual or physical, at the hands of an intimate or a non-sexual partner. In Eswatini, almost half of our mothers, sisters, and daughters, 48%, experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.

We therefore commend the Kingdom of Eswatini, through the leadership of His Majesty, for working tirelessly to ensure that women and girls are protected from sexual and gender-based violence. In his address to the UN General Assembly, His Majesty assured world leaders that the enactment of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (SODVA) 2018 would “protect women from domestic violence and sexual assault” and give effect to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

On this special day, we must not forget our sisters who are living in poverty and are thus more vulnerable to gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy. Indeed, 127 per 1,000 girls give birth before the age of 18, as opposed to 41 per 1,000 girls who do not live in poverty. We must also remember our sisters living with disabilities who face stigma, discrimination and lack of support on a daily basis.

It is no mistake that this celebration has brought us to Mafutseni Inkhundla today. This place is an incredible example of courage, resilience, strength and boldness in the Kingdom of Eswatini. Mafutseni is the only Inkhundla, rural or otherwise, which elected a female member of the Parliament from their community; Hon. Minister of Education and Training, Lady Howard Mabuza: what an achievement. People of Mafutseni, I salute you! We look up to the dedication of Honorable Minister Howard Mabuza to her community of birth, noting her strength, knowledge, vision and commitment, acting as an example of the Eswatini that we desire for all. Not only is the Hon. Minister committed to girls’ issues in schools but, as also an accomplished entrepreneur herself, she believes that women are the future of entrepreneurship in Eswatini: so do we. The community of Mafutseni has seen two of its members awarded the prestigious title of the nation’s Woman Farmer of the Year. Mafutseni has a primary school pass rate of 86%; educates 14,817 learners in 19 schools of whom 48% are female; and serves 22,000 people with healthcare in six health-centres.

Despite disheartening challenges experienced by the community, notably climate change-created issues such as lack of water, food insecurity, drought and harsh weather, lack of transport and access to markets; this community has persevered to overcome the odds. Once again, I reiterate that it is a privilege to engage with you.

I am told that 52% of the people in Mafutseni are female. Women and girls are the majority: do not let yourselves be seen as the minority. Encourage your daughters to become engineers, nurses, doctors, farmers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, land-owners and parliamentarians for they are well-capable like Honorable Minister Howard Mabuza, Make Khabonina Dlamini and other men and women of this community. Eswatini needs more women in those sectors.

As women, we are no longer invisible, we matter: so I encourage you to teach your daughter that she is seen and heard; she holds the same rights as any other person whether male or female and shall bring positive transformation to Eswatini. Let us celebrate International Women’s Day knowing that a bright future lies before girls and women worldwide, as we witness a new generation of girls and boys fight for gender equality.

With only 10 years left to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the UN Secretary-General, Mr Antonio Guterres, has called for a Decade of Action, highlighting the need to accelerate efforts to achieve Agenda 2030.

As the UN Family, we will continue to support the Government of Eswatini and civil society to design and implement educational programmes that promote human rights and gender equality. We have pledged, through our agencies including WHO, UNFPA, UNESCO, UNAIDS and UNICEF and others, nearly 1 million USD to such efforts. Along with our partners who have been pivotal in working towards achieving the SDGs, we are looking forward to further impacting Eswatini.

In commemoration of the UN’s 75th Anniversary this year, the UN has launched the biggest global conversation on the role of global cooperation in building the future we want. Please be a part of this conversation by talking and engaging various groups on gender equality and defining the future you want to see in the next 25 years when the UN will turn 100 years. We want to hear from you about how we can work together to achieve gender equality in Eswatini.

I would like to extend my gratitude to my UN colleagues and partners for joining us today to celebrate women and girls and reflect on the work still ahead of us to achieve gender equality. Our special thanks and appreciation are directed at the Manzini Regional Administrator, the Minister of Tinkhundla Administration and Development, the Minister of Education and Training, the Chief of Mafutseni, and each of you for making this celebration happen and a success.

In conclusion, let us stand with our heads held high knowing that, together and individually, today and every day, we are taking one step further to achieving gender equality in Eswatini.

Take home with you a feeling of hope, empowerment and achievement, for the future is bright and the future is women.

Happy International Women’s Day to you all.  

Thank you.

 

Speech by
Author
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
RCO
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
FAO
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
IOM
International Organization for Migration
UN
United Nations
UNAIDS
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
UNDP
United Nations Development Programme
UNFPA
United Nations Population Fund
UNICEF
United Nations Children’s Fund
WFP
World Food Programme
WHO
World Health Organization