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General Assembly, International Council of Women-Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Strategies to Empower Women: Promoting Women’s Right to Social Protection and Health

International Council of Women General Assembly

Grand Inna Malioboro Hotel, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

September 13-19, 2018

“The true wealth of a community is measured by how carefully it listens to it’s women and how sincerely it values their wisdom. Empowering women empowers us all”. Actor Forest Whitaker.

To transform a society we must Empower women.

To ensure development and dignity for all, we must empower women.

To guarantee a peaceful and prosperous future, we must empower women.

Although 143 out of 195 countries guarantee gender equality in their constitutions, in reality not one nation has honored this pledge. There has never been more crucial time in recent history for the global family to confront the realities of gender inequality in all levels of society, and not leave women behind from advancement in science , technology , prosperity and social security.We must utilize the collective ideas of all people as well as connections between the political, social, economic and environmental spheres taking full advantage of exploding advancement of technology to truly transform societies, girls , boys, men and women once for all. We must collaboratively develop a world which ensures the future generations’ enjoyment of the full spectrum of human rights.

In 2015 the world leaders unanimously adopted Agenda 2030, a blueprint for the creation of such a society. Goal number 5 explicitly calls the global community to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” . Still the women’s empowerment is dependent upon the realization of interrelated objectives.

Many of the objectives outlined by the sustainable development goals, closely parallel women’s rights as mandated by international law, and as Former Secretary of the United States of America Hillary Clinton stressed at the 1995 adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. “ Women’s rights are human rights”.

The United Nations Population Fund reminds us that “Human rights are universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. They are universal because everyone is born & possess the same rights, regardless of where they live, their gender or race, or their religious, cultural or ethnic background. Inalienable because peoples rights can never be taken away. Indivisible and interdependent because all rights-political, civil, social, cultural and economic are equal in importance and none can be fully enjoyed without the others. They apply to all equally and all have the rights to participate in decisions that affect their lives. They are upheld by the rule of law and strengthened through legitimate claims for duty-bearers to be accountable to international standards.”

Still, Women’s rights, which are human rights, continue to be violated in all parts of the globe.

At birth, women & girls’ right to life is violated by unsafe birthing practices, teenage pregnancy, femicide and infanticide. 1.5 million female fetuses are terminated each year, and the average global femicide rate continues to steadily rise from 2.4 per 100,000.

Insufficient nutrition of girls in poor families jeopardizes their right to health & development from an early age. The World Food Programme's Gender Policy Strategy reveals that at least 60% of chronically hungry persons are women and girls.

Inequitable access to primary, secondary & tertiary schooling, in addition to structural barriers to school attendance and completion rob girls of their rights to education, freedom of thought, conscience, opinion and expression. Yet each additional year of primary schooling increases a woman’s lifetime earning by 10-20%, and one study demonstrated that women's education contributed to a 43 percent of the reduction in child malnutrition, while increased food availability accounted for only 26 percent.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council reports that twice as many girl children as boys will never have the opportunity to begin primary school and that there are at least 30.9 million school-aged girls worldwide who remain unenrolled. Harmful traditional practices such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, and unjust customs surrounding child custody, widowhood & inheritance decimate women’s & girls’ rights to autonomy and family.

Globally 400 million women are in agriculture, but over half of our world’s countries have laws or customs which restrict inheritance and management of property.

Women’s unpaid care & domestic work totals $10 trillion per year. Furthermore, if we were to close the gender gap in employment & compensation we would add $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025.

Yet in the current global workforce women still only earn 77 cents to men’s dollar, which is a clear violation of the right to equal remuneration.

Interviews conducted by UN Women revealed that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced violence, and 1 in 5 women and girls aged 15-49 reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last 12 months. The annual economic cost of medical treatment for survivors of domestic violence in the US is 5.8 billion. Globally 47% of female homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner or family member compared to only 6% of men. Yet, 49 nations still fail to pass legislation protecting women from domestic violence and 37 countries continue to exempt rape perpetrators from prosecution if they agree to marry their victim (UN, 2015). The proliferation of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war alongside continued social acceptance of domestic violence is not only a gross violation of human dignity, political, social, cultural and economic rights, but it is also a substantial barrier to women’s voice, participation and engagement in the peace process. (IHAN Violence poster)

Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed that “Protecting and empowering women during and after conflicts is one of the most important challenges of our time”. Likewise, the current Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka eloquently stated: “Women are the best drivers of growth, the best hope for reconciliation in conflict and the best buffer against the radicalization of youth and the repetition of cycles of violence.”

Thus, our world cannot hope to achieve genuine progress toward sustainable development or a culture of peace, without genuine empowerment of women in all spheres, at all levels, in all corners of the globe.

Furthermore, longitudinal data compiled by UN Women proved that “When women are included in peace processes there is a 20 percent increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 2 years, and a 35 percent increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 15 years”.

Resolution 1325 calls for women’s participation in all levels of conflict resolution & peacebuilding, given that from 1992-2011 only 2% of mediators were women.

Furthermore, these aggravating and intersecting inequalities generate a cumulative impact on women and girl’s right to the highest attainable standard of health and well-being, which forms the foundation upon which all other rights are enjoyed. Globally, women and girls have less access to healthcare.

About 830 Women die each day due to pregnancy & childbirth complications. Fortunately in my 40 years of service as a medical doctor, I have witnessed the global reduction of maternal mortality rates from 600,000 to around 300,000 as more women have been able to enjoy their right to health. However, there is no reason that in 2018, a single women should be lost to preventable complications of pregnancy.

The international community has been working to resolve these issues for the last 7 decades.

-1975 Women Conference in Mexico

-1980 World Conference on Women in Copenhagen

-1985 End of the Decade Conference in Nairobi(find IHAN Nairobi poster)

-1995 Fourth women Conference in Beijing (Find IHAN Beijing Poster)

-2000 Millennium Summit for the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in UN Headquarters in NYC (find poster)

-2015 Adoption of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development

-And 64 years of the annual Commission on Status of Women

Let us remind ourselves that still today as we are gathered here, and let us ask ourselves WHY is it taking so long to dismantle the structural barriers and systemic pitfalls to the empowerment of women and girls.

What we must do...

At the level of national and international policy, these barriers can be addressed through comprehensive social protection schemes. Among the principles enshrined within the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the right to social protection which UN women defines as “a set of minimum guarantees, including basic income security for children, working-age adults, older people and people with disabilities, as well as essential health care for all” (UN Women, 2016)

Numerous studies have confirmed that Social Protection, is among the most effective tools for facilitating simultaneous progress in all aspects of Agenda 2030, ensuring universal observance of human rights, and eliminating the barriers to women’s empowerment. Yet, Currently, only 45% of the global population is effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit.

A recent study of 187 countries published by UN Women, UNICEF and the International Labor Organization demonstrates that given political will, successful social protection schemes can be implemented in developing and developed nations alike without necessitating substantial expenditure cuts or lengthy adjustment periods. Their working paper offers eight options that should be explored to expand fiscal space and generate resources to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), realize human rights and invest in women and children.

These include:

Re-allocating public expenditures

Increasing tax revenues

Expanding social security coverage and contributory revenues

Lobbying for aid and transfers

Eliminating illicit financial flows

Using fiscal and foreign exchange reserves

Managing debt: borrowing or restructuring existing debt

Adopting a more accommodative macroeconomic framework.

Civil Society also has an active role to play in facilitating the connection between social protection, sustainable development and the empowerment of women and girls.We must increase collaboration between, local and national governments, religious and learning institutions to not only increase their involvement in issues of gender, but to maintain the steadfast resolve necessary to generate change over time.

We must remind men of their role in implementing and reinforcing gender equality, not forgetting to also highlight positive male role models for our boys.

We must empower women on the ground, one village at a time, to become their own champions, and create space for them to share their own triumphs, tribulations and expertise. We must promote legal literacy and a standard of education which includes knowledge of one’s own rights and mechanisms for redress. “Once a woman Knows her value, she will demand her place in society”(Aisha cooper Bruce, Global Fund for Women)

But first, we must ensure that basic needs of women and girls are met. As the themes of the upcoming Commission on the Status of Women and Commission for Social Development highlight, social protection floors must address pay and pension gaps, food security and benefits for disenfranchised members of society.

Furthermore, social protection floors are also one of the most efficient and effective mechanism to ensure that women and girls of all ages have the physical and mental health to reach their full potential. Therefore, we must partner to guarantee that community health clinics are well equipped with both the human and financial resources necessary to ensure high quality care, especially as it relates to reproductive health and the elimination of stigma and the dissemination of misinformation.

“Women are the real architects of society” (Harriet Beecher-Stowe)

We must build sustainable infrastructure, provide safe transport to school, work and community life. We must demand access to basic services such as clean & safe water, and gendered access to sanitation facilities in all public spaces.

And we must demand observance of the right to effective remedy, justice and equal protection under the law while simultaneously eliminating corruption, impunity and retaliatory measures.

Our girls must enjoy the same quality of schooling as their male peers. Young ladies should be encouraged to pursue the STEAM fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. And we must provide the guidance and mentorship to facilitate their transition from the classroom to the workplace, while working to make equal pay the standard not the exception in all fields of employment.

We must set in place lasting frameworks which guarantee that young women are able to continue building upon the foundations which we, our sisters, our mothers and our grandmothers laid before us. We must support women to become responsible and honest policy makers and politicians to effect change at the highest level, and to hold our institutions accountable for decades of negotiations and resolutions promoting gender equality.

We must reinforce gender parity at all levels of representation and participation as the normative expectation. As US supreme court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg points out when she is asked “When will there be enough women on the supreme court?” & she says 9, “people are shocked”. “But there’d been nine men and nobody’s ever raised a question about that”.

Those of us not in political office are not exempt from political responsibility. We must vote. As my dear friend Shirin Ebadi emplors us “When you vote, vote for those who are not warmongers, and vote for those who respect human rights.” (Shirin Ebadi)

And we must remember that it is equally important to encourage and facilitate girls and women to become teachers, doctors and nurses, scientist and technocrats who give their support to the younger generation at the local level, and ensure that not one of us is left behind.

This has been the blueprint of the International Health Awareness Network and our partnership with UN Agencies, universities, NGOs and local communities for the last 30 years in many parts of the globe. Together, we will explore the role that we all, as doctors, teachers, politicians, members of civil society, and most importantly women, can play not only in ensuring universal access to social protection, but also in demanding that social protection schemes are designed, implemented, and maintained with the needs of women & girls at the forefront.


EPHA. (2016). Universal Health Coverage, Sustainable Development and the Pillar of Social Rights: Implications and Opportunities for(Rep.). European Public Health Alliance.

Facts & Figures. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Facts and figures: Peace and security. (2017). Retrieved from

UN Women, ILO, & UNICEF. (2017). Fiscal Space for Social Protection and the SDGs Options to Expand Social Investments in 187 countries(Rep.). Retrieved

UN Women. (2016). Making national social protection floors work for women(Rep.). Retrieved

Women and Hunger: 10 Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from

WUNRN Releases. (2016). Retrieved from

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