First of all, many thanks to UNIFEM and UNFPA for organizing this event. The issues of gender equality and women's empowerment are particularly close to my heart. Ever since I became engaged in politics, the promotion of gender issues has been at the very center of my political agenda.
Madame Moderator, you have asked us some very complicated questions, and I could come up with equally complicated answers. But I am not going to do so. I have thought a lot about the issues you have raised, and I have come up with a very simple answer to all of them: disobedience. Women have to stop doing what they have been expected to do, and start doing what they think is right.
I have had the opportunity to acquaint myself particularly with women’s issues in Africa and I am convinced that the empowerment of Africa’s women is a key issue in achieving the Millennium development goals as well as being an issue of itself. Africa’s women are strong and competent. Enabling them to act at full capacity in all areas of society is critically important. But for this to happen, we must view women as agents, doers in all situations, not as victims. That is the position from which I proceed.
At the centre of this event, and indeed of the main event on Africa’s development needs is the issue of implementation. Getting things done is generally more difficult than saying what should be done. This seems to be particularly true when it comes to gender equality. In my own country, I found 25 years ago that the only way to push this matter forward was to found a women’s party. Iceland is not an exception to the rule that cultural values favor men not women. This is an issue that has to be addressed in the African context as well.
I have been asked to speak from the point of view of a donor country.
I would like to approach this issue from two sides. First, I would like to give you an overview of how gender equality and women's empowerment is addressed in both our bilateral and multilateral development cooperation, with specific focus on Africa. And secondly, I would like to look forward and briefly discuss the opportunities we face in promoting this issue within the new aid architecture.
Iceland's official development assistance has doubled over the past four years, and our aim is to be among the top ODA contributors. However, a rapid increase like this does not come without growing pains. During this time we have had to reassess our overall policy on development cooperation, with the aim of allocating our assistance to the institutions, sectors and regions where we believe our support is most needed and of most value.
In this process, gender equality and women’s empowerment have emerged as key elements of our development policy. This focus is based on the fact that not only is gender equality a basic human right, and as such an important goal in itself, but also that gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to development, and necessary preconditions for successful achievement of all of the Millennium Development Goals
Hence gender equality and women's empowerment are increasingly mainstreamed into all aspects of Iceland's development policy, be it bilateral or multilateral.
In our bilateral development cooperation, gender is at the centre of the work carried out by the Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA). Reflecting this, ICEIDA adopted a Gender Equality policy in 2004, the aim of which is to mainstream gender perspectives into all its institutional activities and development projects, as well as to promote gender equality within the Agency itself. This policy also stipulates that evaluations of ICEIDA´s development projects will include an assessment of how effective the Agency has been implementing the Policy.
ICEIDA has mainly been operating in some of the poorest countries in Africa. The promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment has received extensive attention in the Agency's work, with efforts being focused in the fields of health and education, where reproductive health and female adult literacy programs have featured prominently.
We have also recently joined the Institute for Security Studies, a pan African research and implementation intuition, focusing on conflict and peace development. There we have established a project addressing women’s access to peace negotiations on the African continent.
Iceland’s strong emphasis on gender is also well reflected in our multilateral development cooperation. Here, UNIFEM is one of our key partners and our support to UNIFEM has multiplied in only a few years, more specifically by 280% in the past four years. We have also increased our support for UNICEF and UNFPA, and have recently become active participants in the World Bank's Gender Action Plan.
Another initiative we have taken is to establish, in cooperation with the University of Iceland, a new international training centre for promoting gender equality and gender perspectives. The specific focus of the centre is on post-conflict and developing countries. Among other things the centre is designed to train peace keepers and sensitize them to gender dimensions in the field. This is also a contribution to the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325.
I would now like briefly to discuss the opportunities for promoting gender equality within the new aid architecture.
Country ownership is a key feature of the new aid architecture. I believe that ownership has the possibility of providing a vehicle for promoting gender equality and women's empowerment.
But in putting country ownership at the heart of aid effectiveness we must maintain the visibility of gender. Experience has shown that in many cases, the strong focus on policies to spur economic growth within national development strategies, often leads to a lack of proper analysis of the impact of those policies on gender equality and women's empowerment.
This begs the question of “who owns development?” And I think we can all agree that true ownership can surely only be achieved if the interests and concerns of the whole population – both to women and men – are adequately reflected in the development process. This requires broad consultations with all stakeholders, including civil society, and particularly women's groups, in the development of national poverty reduction strategies. I know for example, that in Liberia, this process was very extensive, and that these consultations will provide for broad ownership of the national development plan. We have also heard from the Honorable Minister from Rwanda, how gender has been mainstreamed in their development policies.
We do realize that both implementing and measuring the impact of gender responsive budgeting will remain a challenge. Nevertheless, it is one of the most effective tools we have to ensure that women are active participants in development and in decision making at all levels.
Iceland puts gender equality at the forefront in its development assistance in adapting to the new aid architecture. We therefore put great weight on identifying how we can assist partner countries in ensuring that gender perspectives are adequately reflected in national development plans.
Here, I believe strengthening the capacities of national institutions and mechanisms that respond to women's needs is very important. Iceland has focused on that area in Mozambique, where, from the year 2000, we have been providing institutional support to the Directorate for Women within the Ministry for Women and Social Action, both within the Ministry, as well as in its regional offices. However, we all know it is not sufficient to have the mechanisms in place. Civil society and advocacy groups must be aware of their existence and know how to use them.
In short, in this new aid architecture, a wide range of capacity building activities are necessary. We, the donors, need to hear from partners what sort of assistance is most needed and most effective in ensuring that the aid effectiveness agenda can be harnessed to the greatest benefit of women and men alike.
In concluding, I would like to emphasize that Iceland's commitment to the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment is not only reflected in our development policy. It is an integral part of our foreign policy. In particular, when it comes to the issue of conflict and peace building, I, as a foreign minister, have given specific attention to the importance of Security Council Resolution 1325, on Women, Peace and Security, as an instrument to ensure that women affected by war enjoy justice and protection, and that they are fully included in peace processes and in the rebuilding of communities in the aftermath war.
Resolution 1325 is of high relevance to many African countries. I share the sense of importance of raising awareness of the resolution and the need for implementation. For these reasons Iceland is hosting an international conference this December on 1325, or on "Women Negotiating Peace" with a special focus on women’s access to formal and informal peace processes. Conventional discourse on peace and conflict largely centers on women being victims of war. But it is long overdue for women to be recognized as important agents in the stabilization of societies and in reconstruction towards just and sustainable peace. The conference aims at challenging the conventional discourse on women as passive victims of war, essential if we are to secure sustainable development in the aftermath of conflict situations.
Madam Moderator, Co-Chairs, and distinguished panelists,
Let me close by emphasizing the importance of the dialogue we are having here today, and thank the organizers, and in particular UNIFEM, for bringing all of us together. I look forward to an interesting and interactive discussion, which I am certain will be of great value in our common efforts to harness the capacity of African women for the benefit of Africa.