Keynote address by President Dalia Grybauskaitė at the Women in Parliaments Global Forum Summit 2016
Looking around the room, my eyes are enjoying and my heart is happy to see so many women leaders here. That means you have already achieved a lot.
You have come from the entire region – a region which is the most dangerous today to live in and even to be a woman. So, to see today the representatives of more than sixty countries gathered here – it really is a joy.
Thirty six years have passed since the first woman was elected president in Iceland and 23 years since the first woman became member of Parliament in Jordan.
Women's participation in politics has significantly increased since. But still much has to be done.
In just three countries women fill more than half of their national parliaments. Only ten women are now elected as Heads of State.
Yet the numbers do not tell the whole story.
The key reason why more women should step forward is simply because democracy, economic growth and sustainable peace are very hard to achieve if half of the world's population is excluded:
- Many women have been inspirational leaders in times of crisis, not least because they were not afraid to take responsibility.
- Others are Nobel Prize laureates for their outstanding role in science, literature or as peacemakers because they knew the value of compromise and inclusiveness.
- Finally, women are exceptional in business, because they are hardworking, educated and dare to look for new opportunities.
To achieve results in women's empowerment, we must give them tools to succeed.
First of all, that means education. Educated women have more choices: they are healthier, wealthier and safer. In addition to knowledge, education gives women self-confidence and a path to self-reliance.
However, only providing education is not enough. Secondary education or even a university degree will not bring economic success if no one gives you a job because you are a woman.
A lot remains to be done in this field by facilitating women's employment, closing the pay gap, involving men in childcare, and encouraging women to start their own business.
Second, women empowerment is impossible without ensuring their basic safety. With one in three women experiencing abuse, domestic violence is a global epidemic. As political leaders, we must demand that necessary laws are adopted and strictly enforced.
Challenges become even greater for women who are forced to flee their homes because of conflicts. In refugee camps and on the move, they risk forced marriages and trafficking. Abuse by ISIS, Boko Haram and other terrorists is simply beyond comprehension.
Third, the response to those who want to push our societies back to the Middle Ages must be a united drive forward.
If modern communication technologies can summon a revolution, they can surely boost women's political participation.
The new era of technology requires a new type of political leaders who are able to communicate with people fast, efficiently and on time. This is a chance for women.
Globally almost 40 percent of women are connected to the Internet. It already is an empowering tool.
Social media – Twitter, Facebook and others – can amplify women's voices, create new economic opportunities, open paths to information and self-expression. It can also start a successful political career.
Each of us has a special responsibility to inspire a generation of future women leaders:
- a generation of women who do not shy away from challenges, but embrace them;
- who demand to be treated according to their merits, not their gender;
- who have the courage to break every glass ceiling and open every door;
- who know that with hard work and determination the possibilities are endless.
Thank you for your courage to take responsibility.
I wish us all a productive and inspiring summit.