Justine Greening – 2016 Speech on Women’s Empowerment


Below is the text of the speech made by Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for International Development, at the Overseas Development Institute in London, on 8 March 2016.


Thank you for that introduction. I’m delighted to be here at the end of what I know has been a fantastic, powerful day.

And I’m delighted to be speaking here, on International Women’s Day, looking ahead to what I believe is an absolutely vital year in the battle for girls and women’s rights.

And, actually, I know I said this time last year that 2015 was a key year for gender equality.

And 2015 was an important year for girls and women – as we successfully fought for that standalone gender equality goal, Global Goal 5 in the new Sustainable Development Goals, and – against real opposition – for the first time the world has key targets on sexual and reproductive health, ending FGM and child marriage.

What’s more we’ve made sure that gender equality runs through the Global Goals, because no goal, whether on education, sanitation or health, will be considered achieved unless it’s achieved for everyone – women and men, girls and boys. No one can be left behind.

But that’s why this year, 2016, is so important. Last year was about getting the rights of women and girls on the world’s to do list – this year is about doing that to do list. We shouldn’t lose a single moment when it comes to making these goals a reality.

2016 will also be the year of the UN High Level Panel on girls and women’s economic empowerment – announced by the UN Secretary General in January…the first time the UN have ever put together a High Level Panel on this.

In the UN Secretary General’s words: “To achieve the Goals, we need a quantum leap in women’s economic empowerment”.

I absolutely share that view and I’m very proud to be one of the founding members of this Panel. I believe that women’s economic empowerment is something that simply can’t wait. Girls and women around the world can’t wait, the world can’t wait. A lack of empowerment for women is pulling us all down.

The challenge

But what I want to be very clear about today is that when it comes to winning the battle on gender equality, we are getting there but it’s taking far, far too long.

Yes there have been big victories in the battle for women’s rights – but, frankly, the pace of change has not been good enough – and that’s what we need to keep at the forefront of our minds this International Women’s Day. If we are to achieve the acceleration in progress for girls and women that we want and so badly need.

The problems faced by girls and women will have been set out many times over the course of today. The statistics that, in some parts of the world, paint such a terrible picture for so many women.

Child marriage: 1 in 4 girls in developing countries will likely be married before the age of 18, and 1 in 12 before the age of 15
1 in 3 women worldwide are beaten or go through sexual violence in their lifetime. How is that something any of us can accept?

200 million women around the world have undergone FGM. This represents brutal violence against women. In Uganda, a woman is 123 times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in the United Kingdom

Globally, just 50% of women participate in formal labour markets and have the financial independence that brings – compared with 77% of men

In 17 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working

In 29 countries women are prohibited from working at night

And in 34 countries women do not have the same inheritance rights as men.

Even here in Britain we need to ask ourselves searching questions.

It was 150 years ago that John Stuart Mill presented a petition to Parliament to give women the same political rights as men. Over six decades later, in 1928, all women over 21 in Britain finally won the right to vote. Change really took time to happen here – and we still have further to go. There are still glass ceilings to smash.

Party leaders have come and gone, but there’s been just one female leader of a major political party.

There are more women on FTSE 350 boards than ever before, with representation of women more than doubling since 2011.

But as CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn set out earlier this year, there are just 9 more female executive directors on FTSE350 boards than in 2010 and the number of female chief executives has hardly moved.

Even in our schools, where you might think there must be equality as women have been teachers for decades. In fact, only 37% of school heads are women despite three-quarters of teachers being female.

Here in London, the UK’s capital and one of the most advanced in the world, more progress is needed:

– less than a third of London Assembly members are women (8 of 25)

– on average men working in the City earn over £20,000 more than women

– more than half of all newly identified cases of FGM, 1,300, in the UK from July to September last year occurred in London.

When we look globally, according to the World Economic Forum, the global gender gap across health, education, economic opportunity and politics has closed by only 4% in the past 10 years, with the economic gap closing by just 3%. They suggest it will take another 118 years to close this gap completely.

On the flip side of this:

If girls and women were operating at their full potential and playing an identical role in labour markets to men’s then, according to the McKinsey Global Institute’s recent research, an estimated $28 trillion, or 26%, could be added to global GDP in 2025.

They estimate the UK could add £0.6 trillion of additional annual GDP in 2025 by fully bridging the gender gap.

So the world shouldn’t just wait for girls and women’s economic empowerment to steadily happen – we should turbo charge it.

And what that shows is that our global economy needs women’s economic empowerment as much as any other lever that the central bankers can pull.

And as well as being about basic, human rights for girls and women – gender equality is also in all our interests. When women are losing out – we’re all losing out. And at a time when there is still much economic uncertainty in global markets, we can’t afford to lock women out of the workplace – we need them in board rooms, offices and in industry.

Economic empowerment goes right to the heart of women’s rights – it’s about jobs but it’s also about access to bank accounts, tackling violence against girls and women, overcoming discriminatory laws and reducing the burden of unpaid domestic work. All things the High Level Panel must tackle.

I believe women’s economic empowerment is a game-changer – both for tackling poverty and for building global prosperity.

No country can afford to leave half its population behind. This has been going on for too long – I don’t accept it.

The UN High Level Panel is fundamentally about turbo charging all our efforts to deliver real and lasting change and I’m proud to be part of that.

Voice, choice, control

The question for all of us today is not just where we need to go but how fast we can get there – how we can accelerate the pace of change.

What’s that going to take?

I think it comes down to voice, choice and control. We have to look at politics, the business world, the attitudes people have within their communities and in the home.

So what about women having a real voice over the decisions that affect them? Internationally we need the next UN Secretary General to really pick up the baton on gender equality – perhaps for the next UN Secretary General to be a woman for the first time.

Again, on women having a voice, we need women to be equally represented in Parliaments around the world.

In Somalia – where only 14% of MPs are women, in Sierra Leone – where just over 12% are women, but also Japan – where only 9% are women. And Britain – where it’s still only 30% despite all the progress we’ve made. We still need around 130 more women MPs here to be equal. Let’s find the 130 more.

My message to women in Britain is: if you’re a great, capable woman then run, run for Parliament or for local government, or to be a police commissioner, and if you know a great, capable woman – then ask her to run.

What about women being able to choose their own futures? Whether they’re sitting in Britain’s boardrooms or smallholder farmers in Ethiopia they need to be economically empowered.

And finally the control women have over their lives and their own bodies, when and how many children they have, when they get married, not having FGM.

We have to finally overcome those discriminatory social norms that hold women back – the cultures and traditions that can define what a girl is for. Culture and tradition should never be used as an excuse for inaction on girls and women’s rights.

Britain is going to fight for a world where there is voice, choice and control for women.

Nationally, we are getting our own house in order, with new league tables to put the spotlight on companies that are failing to address the gender pay gap. By supporting women to start and grow their own businesses, including through start-up loans & mentoring. And by supporting FGM and forced marriage units as well as refuges and rape support centres.

Internationally, we will continue to work with countries that are moving in the same direction on this – supporting countries like Ethiopia that are focused on stamping out harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM. But this political leadership is, of course, not the case everywhere.

In countries where that political leadership simply is not there, we’ll focus on supporting their grassroots movements, the local organisations and women’s rights groups, the women and men, girls and boys demanding change.

When John Stuart Mill – a man fighting for women’s rights it’s worth pointing out – when he presented that petition to allow women to vote to Parliament, the establishment was all against him. By 1928 resistance had broken down. And that was because of a grassroots movement – the suffragettes – who kept fighting for change and in doing so transformed this country.

It all adds up to this: the mission for gender equality will underpin everything we’re doing at DFID. It underpins what this government is doing in the UK. And it needs to underpin the work of the UN, the work of all governments around the world.

The fight for women’s rights needs to have the same momentum, the same progress, the same deal-making, the same pace and urgency we’ve recently seen around the climate change movement in recent years – culminating in that ground-breaking deal in Paris. If we can do a deal to save the planet, then surely we can deliver gender equality now, in the 21st Century, too.

Call to action

So, I want to conclude with a call to action – not just to this room, but to everyone who cares about this issue, in Britain and around the world.

Inequality between men and women is the greatest unmet human challenge the world continues to face this century. It requires the same global commitment that we’re now seeing around tackling climate change. The whole world needs to rally round women’s rights.

The Sustainable Development Goals is a blueprint for women’s rights around the world – so let’s use it.

In the end by building a better world for women, we are building a better world for everyone. We can see the world we all want – we just need to accelerate towards it as fast as we can. We’ve got to go further, faster.

I’ve often said that when it comes to women’s rights – if we’re not winning this battle then, de facto, we’re losing it. There’s plenty of people who think things have already gone too far and will try to claw back the progress we’ve made. Just to stand still we have to keep winning.

But the other aspect of that is we are now seeing a network effect. As we see more progress, and more rights for girls and women – there’s more and more voices to call for change.

So the more we can be and give a voice to those that don’t have one, the more we shout for change, the more we can give a platform to those voices demanding change – I believe the more irresistible this movement will become until no country can withstand it.

I don’t want someone in my place to be here in 150 years’ time talking about this day and this speech I made. In fact, making a similar speech about the need for more pace and urgency on women’s rights because there’s still more to do. It’s too long to wait. In our lifetimes, for our girls, for our children, for everyone – let’s all of us, men and women, girls and boys, finish off the job. Let’s make women equal.

Thank you.