Below is a speech made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the United Nations on gender equality and human rights. Check against delivery.
It’s a pleasure to be here at the United Nations. I met the Executive director of UN Women earlier today, and I’ve just had a discussion with the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights.
It’s wonderful to see all of you for this discussion about the role of women in conflict resolution. It is an issue which is of international importance, and one where I hope Scotland can make a distinct and positive contribution.
I was at an event at Stanford University yesterday. Leland and Jane Stanford insisted that women were admitted on equal terms as men when the university was founded. Leland Stanford actually pointed out in a letter in 1893 that “if vocations were thrown open to women, there would be 25 per cent increase in the nation’s production.”
I was very struck by the fact that that letter was written 124 years ago. It makes a simple and overwhelmingly obvious point – that any nation which underuses the talent of half of its population is impoverishing itself.
And yet last year, the World Economic Forum predicted that at the current rate of progress, it would take 170 years for the world to reach true gender equality. None of us can afford to wait that long. And I’m determined that Scotland will take a lead in making progress – both within Scotland and also, where possible, by helping to promote gender equality beyond our own borders.
I vividly remember when I became First Minister, one of the things that really moved me was how many women and girls took the opportunity to write to me or to speak to me to say how much it meant to them personally to see a woman in the highest political job in the country.
I am determined to try and use my time as First Minister to improve opportunities for women. The Government I lead is committed to tackling violence against women, closing the gender pay gap, and ensuring more women work in careers that have traditionally been seen as careers for men like engineering. We also want to encourage more men to work in careers that have often been seen as the preserve of women like childcare and teaching.
And I’ve been determined to lead by example in my own appointments. When I became First Minister, I appointed a cabinet of 5 men and 5 women. According to the United Nations, it was one of only three gender balanced cabinets in the developed world – subsequently we’ve seen Canada have a gender balanced cabinet, and I’m sure there are others now.
That commitment to gender equality also extends to Scotland’s work overseas. A good example is our work on climate justice – our projects to help developing countries mitigate the effects of climate change.
Scotland has been influenced in our approach by Mary Robinson – the President of the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation and the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
She has argued that “Women are at the heart of effective solutions to addressing the impacts of climate change. They are the most convincing advocates for the policy solutions that they require and have a right to participate in decision-making processes.”
And so several of our climate justice projects have the aim of empowering women. After all, the worst impacts of climate change are often disproportionately felt by women – they are more likely to be subsistence farmers, and to be affected when crops fail; women are usually the people who get water and have to walk further in times of drought; it is girls who are more likely to stop going to school when tough times force the family to work even harder.
And of course that basic logic applies far beyond the context of climate change. Women’s rights aren’t something that can primarily be considered and taken account of by men – women and men should have an equal opportunity to lead and take decisions. It’s a basic principle which should be recognised by communities, companies and governments all around the world.
Security Council Resolution 1325 applies it to conflict resolution.
Conflicts which target civilians, as so many civil wars do – often have a disproportionate impact on women. Yet women are often excluded from having a voice or a say in resolving conflict.
That needs to change. As Antonio Guterres noted in January, “Ensuring the meaningful participation of women and girls in all areas of society, including conflict resolution, is investing in sustaining peace.”
Last year, Staffan de Mistura the UN Special Envoy for Syria invited the Scottish Government to fund a project to train women to be involved in the Syrian peace process.
Scotland had already committed at that stage to accept refugees from Syria – at present, Scotland is home to almost a quarter of the refugees that have come to the UK through its Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme.
And so we were delighted to help with a project which might one day play a part in establishing peace, rather than coping with the consequences of war. I am very grateful to the UN for giving us the opportunity, to the Mediation Support Unit for helping with it, and to the Beyond Borders International Festival who organised the training programme itself.
The first ten participants were all from the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board. The programme is helping to ensure that the voices of women are heard in the ongoing Syrian peace process.
We then broadened the programme out. In total, last year, we trained 50 women – from Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Turkey and Yemen.
The programme is widely regarded as a success. Scotland could provide the women who were participating with a safe space – somewhere where they could discuss issues freely and securely while away from the peace process itself.
They also attended an event with all the party leaders at the Scottish Parliament on the day after our Scottish elections – so they got to see lots of sleep-deprived MSPs! They also got to see that the programme has cross-party support in Scotland. There is simply no debate in Scotland that this initiative is a positive and worthwhile thing for us to be doing.
I met with all of the women, and was incredibly impressed by their determination to make a difference – often in circumstances which are difficult for those of us in peaceful democracies to fully appreciate.
And so I am delighted to confirm today that we will train 50 more fellows every year from now until 2021. In doing so, we will expand the remit of the programme to include South Asia, South and central America and sub-Saharan Africa.
All of this is in line with Scotland’s wider ambition to be a good global citizen. We were one of the first countries to commit ourselves to signing up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – in doing so, we aim to be a model of fair sustainable development at home, and to promote prosperity, equality and peace overseas.
We aim to put rights – including, increasingly, economic and social rights – at the heart of our policy-making. And in doing that, we welcome the framework which the United Nations provides.
Scotland this year is contributing to UK state party reports under the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. The UK’s overall human rights record is being assessed next month through its Universal Periodic Review. The Scottish Government welcomes the recommendations which come from these UN processes – and we support the principle behind them. All countries can learn from each other – and all countries have a role to play in promoting and protecting human rights.
One of my great heroes is Eleanor Roosevelt, who was of course a great supporter of the United Nations and the UN Charter of Human Rights. She once said that “Alone we cannot keep the peace of the world, but in cooperation with others we have to achieve this much longed-for security.”
Scotland is determined to play our part in co-operation with others, to help to achieve peace and security. The Conflict Resolution programme is a good demonstration of an area where we can make a distinctive and positive difference. It is an investment in the capacity of women around the world which will play a part in promoting human rights, supporting gender equality and contributing to conflict resolution.
I am delighted that the Scottish Government and Beyond Borders have been able to work with the United Nations in delivering the programme. I am especially pleased to be able to confirm today that we are extending it. And I am grateful to all of you for coming here today – and also more generally, for all the work you do around the world to uphold peace and promote equality.