“Can we afford not to use today the full potential of the world’s women and girls?”, President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö asked at the high-level lunch event co-hosted by Finland, South Africa and the UN Women in New York. The President’s question was answered with shakes of the head. Women’s rights are not only an ethical issue, but also a practical matter, the President said.
The high-level lunch event drew together decision-makers from different countries, the UN and non-government organisations. In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed surprise at the composition of some delegations to the UN General Assembly. “In the last few days here, I’ve seen that the UN delegations of several countries have not had a single woman. I’m going to raise this issue with anyone who comes to see me without a woman in his delegation. This is an injustice,” the UN Secretary-General said emphatically.
Speaking at the event, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi of Iran said that “culture should not be an excuse to make compromises on women’s rights.” She also brought up the idea of democracy and reminded the audience that “democracy is not a commodity that can be exported to other countries. It is a historical process and takes time.”
The event was part of the first United Nations High Level Meeting on the Rule of Law during the 67th Session of the General Assembly. At the meeting world leaders discussed strengthening the rule of law, its importance to international peace and security and its significance in the realisation of development and universal human rights.
Prior to the meeting, the governments of Finland and South Africa as well as UN Women called on the governments of different countries to demonstrate strong political commitment and to intensify their programmes as well as their practical efforts to improve women’s access to justice and to develop a legal system promoting equal rights for women. At the high-level lunch event co-hosted by the governments of Finland and South Africa and UN Women, the representatives of various countries presented pledges for their country.
In his speech, President Niinistö pledged that Finland would ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence by the end of 2013 and would organise an international seminar on the topic in Helsinki in 2013. The audience applauded to show its appreciation when the President announced Finland’s decision to increase the country’s annual contribution to UN Women from four million euros to six million euros.