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Opening Statement by Gilbert Houngbo, President of IFAD, International Women’s Day 2020

"I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”

Location: IFAD headquarters, Rome, Italy

06 March 2020

Good morning, everyone.

Every year, on March 8th, we take stock of the global march towards gender equality. We celebrate the social, economic and political progress made by women around the globe. And we also speak out against the continued discrimination, marginalization and oppression faced by so many.

At IFAD, it is a moment to draw global attention to the 1.7 billion women and girls who live in rural areas. On virtually every measurable development indicator, rural women and girls are being left behind.

This year’s theme — Each for Equal — drives home an important message: Everyone — men, women, young and old alike — can, and must, play a part in achieving gender equality.

Gender equality, which implies the critical aspect of women’s empowerment, is both an individual and a collective responsibility.

Each day, we can individually choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias and broaden perceptions. Each day, we can build on success and celebrate women's achievements.

Collectively, we can work together to create a gender-equal world. Not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes sense.

Gender equality is essential for communities and economies to thrive.

When we remove the underlying barriers for women and girls, we unlock the potential for all people — men, women, boys and girls — to lead productive lives.

Our current gender action plan lays the foundation to move from gender mainstreaming to gender transformation. It is a matter of incorporating measures and approaches into projects that address the root causes of gender inequality. 

We recognize that eradicating poverty in rural areas goes hand in hand with gender equality.

And we know the root causes of inequality for women are linked to social norms, beliefs, attitudes and value systems.

Rural women and girls are more than one-fifth of all humanity.  Yet too often, their voices are not heeded in their communities or even in their homes. And too often, they lack control over assets, household finances and even their own bodies.

These conditions persist in part because they are made to seem normal. But negative social norms can be changed. For example, at an IFAD-supported project in India, community leaders – women and men -- are working one-on-one with villagers on taboo subjects like rape, domestic abuse and caste violence. In the process, they are changing thousands of lives — one person at a time.

Later this morning, you will hear more about this project.

Gender equality is more than a question of human rights, justice and dignity. It is also an economic issue that affects women and men. Without gender equality, communities cannot reach their full economic potential.

Increasing gender equality can deliver strong economic growth. It can help cut down on extreme poverty and reduce chronic hunger. It can lead to longer-lasting peace. And it can benefit entire families and empower all those who face discrimination.

So it is troubling to read the latest report on the Sustainable Development Goals. It says we haven’t done enough to tackle the root causes of gender inequality. This, in turn, is undermining our collective ability to achieve the SDGs. Not just Goal 5 on gender equality, but all of them.

There is growing evidence, for example, that links progress on gender equality to progress towards zero hunger.

On that note, I’m happy to say the Rome-based agencies are doing just that. Last May, with the support of the European Union, we launched a joint programme to scale up innovative, gender-transformative approaches. These will be key to boosting economies, and eradicating poverty and hunger.  

Ladies and gentlemen,

Each year, International Women’s Day is both a cause for celebration and a call for action. But this year is special because 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Beijing identified 12 critical areas that have guided IFAD’s work on gender equality for the past quarter century. I’ve mentioned several already, such as promoting economic empowerment of rural women and addressing gender-based violence. But I also want to mention the need to engage women as key players in our environment and climate work.

This anniversary offers us a chance to reflect on how far we’ve advanced on all these points, and how far we’ve fallen short.

Individually, and collectively, we need to identify the gaps, and renew our commitment to take action.

Today’s event contributes to the process. By sharing lessons from projects all over the world, we can enhance our partnership and collective knowledge and move the agenda forward.

I hope the experience renews and inspires all of us.

Thank you.