Today we honour the brave, fearless and dedicated women who have broken through confining norms and stereotypes in order to build peace, equality and human rights through diplomacy and leadership.
While women throughout history have not been given the full recognition they deserve as diplomats, dealmakers, leaders and visionaries, we are half of the global population, with a full potential to unleash.
I think of women leaders in the United Nations: UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell, WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain, UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming and many more – along with the multiple visionary and bold women leaders who work with me at the ECW Secretariat. I think of the courageous Sarah Brown, Chair of Theirworld, who recently celebrated the 21st anniversary of her organization, which among other things mentors so many young women towards leadership. And I think of Sherrie Westin, President of Sesame Workshop, who has done so much for early childhood education.
I also think of the women who practice a more quiet, but equally important type of diplomacy, mothers and daughters everywhere, teachers, humanitarians, activists like Mother Teresa and Malala, visionary scientists such as Madam Curie and Katherine Johnson, and our own ECW Global Champions: Somaya Faruqi – who defied all odds to lead the Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team; Folly Bah Thibault – world-renowned journalist, who launched her own girls’ education foundation, Elle Ira à l’Ecole; and, Christina Lamb – award-winning journalist and best-selling author who helped bring the stories of Malala Yousafzai and Nujeen Mustafa to the world.
As Amina J. Mohammed so eloquently states: “We must all do everything possible to ensure women are at the table, our voices heard and our contributions valued.” Still – despite progress and innumerable achievements and contributions to our world – that glass ceiling remains. Out of the 193 Member States of the United Nations, only 34 women serve as elected Heads of State. That’s only 17%.
We cannot fail to include women at the highest levels of diplomacy and leadership in today’s era.
Inasmuch as men, women too are the stewards of our planet. Inasmuch as men, women are leaders of policies that lift nations out of poverty and conflict. Still, wide gaps persist in women’s participation and women remain grossly underrepresented in many weapons-related fields, including technical arms control.
The gap in economic rights is also a major barrier. Nearly 2.4 million women globally don’t have the same economic rights as men, according to the World Bank.
More concerning still, women are being denied their human rights in countries across the globe, especially their right to 12 years of quality education. In Afghanistan, steps taken by the Taliban deny women of their access to secondary education, employment and power is one of the most egregious human rights abuses of the 21st century.
We can do better and we must do better.
The answer is education. Education enlightens and evolves humankind, education transcends biases and stereotypes, and it empowers girls and women to reach their full potential. For every dollar invested in girls’ education, there will be US$2.80 in return. Investments that enable girls to complete secondary education could boost GDP by an average of 10%.
We must ensure the next generation of women diplomats and leaders are able to build the confidence, and access the tools, training and opportunities they need and deserve. With education for all, we can shatter that glass ceiling.
About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):
Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. We support quality education outcomes for refugee, internally displaced and other crisis-affected girls and boys, so no one is left behind. ECW works through the multilateral system to both increase the speed of responses in crises and connect immediate relief and longer-term interventions through multi-year programming. ECW works in close partnership with governments, public and private donors, UN agencies, civil society organizations, and other humanitarian and development aid actors to increase efficiencies and end siloed responses. ECW urgently appeals to public and private sector donors for expanded support to reach even more vulnerable children and youth.