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Remarks by H.E. Amb. Geraldine Byrne Nason at International Women's Day Commenoration

Remarks by H.E. Ms. Geraldine Byrne Nason,

Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations and Chair of the Sixty-Third Commission on the Status of Women


International Women’s Day - 8 March 2019

ECOSOC Chamber

Secretary General, President of the General Assembly, Executive Director, 

I am thrilled to share the podium with you this morning as Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women and to wish everyone a happy International Women’s Day. In my own language, Irish, Lá Idirnáisiútna na mBan shona dhaoibh go leir!

Truth is, in the early days of the UN, women were few and far between in this building. It took quite some time for our voices to be heard and for our messages to register. Yet today, on International Women’s Day in 2019, there can be no doubt we are here to stay, centre stage, and we have no plans to lower the volume! As we just heard from Drew (singer).

Just a few months ago many of us met here in this very chamber to mark the centenary of Irish women securing the right to vote. Ireland’s greatest living poet, Eavan Boland, the daughter of the only ever Irish President of the General Assembly, read from her specially commissioned poem, setting the bar for the next hundred years:

I quote from her: 

“Our future will become the past of other women.”

To ensure that this becomes a reality, we need to be trailblazers. For every step forward we take, there are some who seek to place a stone in our shoe, to slow us down. But we must not be afraid to push forward- to run. 

There are more than enough of us – here in this room, with global impact- to make up a formidable relay team. We must take up the baton from those who have gone before us, and advance more quickly. We have today the baton now for future generations. Let us not forget, that the countdown – the race to 2020, - to 2030, to 2063, is now well and truly on. 

We look ahead, along that race course, to the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, and realize that we have a lot of work left to do. In 1995 it looked like a marathon- just 11% of parliamentarians globally were women. Today, across the globe, the rate of women in parliament is just under 25%.  

This means that just one in four women, currently are at national representation levels in our countries  That is simply not good enough, simply not a reflection of where we thought we would be 25 years later. Not a reflection of where we ought to be. 

At the Beijing World Conference on Women in we saw a whirlpool/wave that began rippling across the globe: the realization that women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights. Today we ask that you keep that to the forefront of your mind as you think equal, build smart, and innovate for change. To do that we need to think Big, to Act big. 

We have already heard today that girls and women are grossly underrepresented in STEM. There are also women in STEM who are hidden and unrecognized. Katherine Johnson who was lauded in recent years for her work at NASA during the 1960’s- one of the many ‘hidden figures’ in the world of STEM.

I think of Jocelyn Bell Burnell, born in Northern Ireland. Her undergraduate work led to her discovering radio pulsars – yet it was her male supervisor who was awarded the Nobel Prize. At Jocelyn’s school, girls were not permitted to study science – the girls’ curriculum only allowed for cooking and cross-stitch. Thankfully we have at least left that behind. 

We need to conquer what I like to call ‘the six Cs’:

The first C is Curricula – we need to provide equal opportunities for boys and girls in school curricula; 

The second C Career information needs to be disseminated; 

The third C we need Correct facilities for girls ensure school attendance and high achievement– be that a toilet or a light on the road;

The fourth C is Caring responsibilities - we need to help women manage those with their career paths;

The fifth C is childcare services are essential; 

Marian Wright Edelman, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see”.

Sixth C is that we need capable role models for success - that is why I am delighted that two science and technology powerhouses, Ellen Ochoa and Irish woman Lorraine Twohill, will speak to you all later today.

Let me add two more to that list – Confidence, and Courage. We must instill confidence, and courage in one another, to ensure that we break down these barriers along this race to equality.

I am very proud to be here as Chair of the CSW a wonderful, vibrant expression of activism and deliberation. The CSW is a call to action by definition. On Monday, over 10,000 additional actors from every part of the world - across civil society and government- will gather here in this building.

The theme of this year’s session is social protection, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure. By considering this theme for the first time ever, CSW has an opportunity to break new ground and a real chance to agree new normative standards. We are the only international body that can do this. 

Why is it important to have social protection and public services? Social protection and public services free women up, empowering them to participate and lead – in politics, in peace agreements, to fulfill their own potential. Affordable childcare, healthcare, education – these are real issues that real women are encountering every day.

As it stands, it will take 217 years to achieve gender parity in pay and employment opportunities. I don’t know about you, but I am far too impatient for that! Right now, there are 130 million girls out of school. That’s more than the populations of France and Tanzania put together… we simply cannot wait. 

Just think about it: If every girl across the globe was to complete second level education, this would add up to $30trillion to the global economy. Investing in girls gives rise to sustainability for a society, and an economy. In other words- we simply cannot afford to wait.

Here’s the thing: No one wins when women and girls get left behind. CSW offers each of us an opportunity to make a real difference.  I never tire of saying that those of us in this room are the privileged ones. Let us not squander that privilege. We know that it’s when women and girls get involved, things start getting done. 

On this International Women’s Day, as we recommit to future generations of women and girls to come.

We need to be picking up the pace and blazing that trail towards equality- looking forward in hope. But I will reach right back to one of the earliest advocates for Women’s rights- right back in the 18th century Mary Wollstonecraft who said:  

“I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves”. 

That’s all we ask sisters, we can actually take it from there…!

Thank you 

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