Speech

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the 8th Africa Partnership Forum in Berlin 22-23 May 2007 ‘Putting women first’

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Dear Chancellor Ms. Merkel,
Dear President Mogae,
Dear Minister Mr. Akufo-Addo,
Dear Ms. Wieczorek-Zeul,
Dear Minister Tørnæs,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

A new leadership is asserting itself inAfrica. And women are increasingly in front of that leadership. And not only in Africa, I may note. Also here in Europe strong women provide excellent leadership as the presence of you, Chancellor Merkel illustrates.

And this makes it all the more appropriate to focus in my intervention here today on women as a prime driving force in development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I highly appreciate the opportunity to address the 8th Africa Partnership Forum and to engage with African leaders. We have a solid platform for strengthening our partnership to promote economic growth and inclusive development in Africa. Also at the bilateral level, Africa is a Danish priority. This is reflected as we take on the responsibility as co-chair of the African Partnership Forum. And it is reflected in our development assistance of 0.8 percent of GDP where Africa counts for almost 2/3 of our bilateral assistance.

The four themes of the next days’ debate in this Forum: investments, peace and security, climate change and gender – all represent major challenges to development in Africa. We are here because we are all committed to take on these challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my brief intervention I would like to place the issue of gender at centre stage. For two reasons:

Firstly, because empowerment of women to my mind is one of the most important driving forces of economic growth and poverty reduction. In other words: Giving women equal opportunities to educate themselves and better access to financial resources is a key to achieving our development goals.

And secondly, because gender discrimination is simply unjust and can slow down development. Mainly it is unjust to the women and girls affected, but also to society at large. We share international legal obligations to the fundamental human rights principle of non-discrimination.

Women’s economic empowerment benefits not only the individual, but also her family, community and country. Indeed, that is the indisputable experience from the Scandinavian countries, including Denmark . Let me mention a couple of examples.

In 1960 Danish women represented only one out of four of the total workforce. Today women and men are almost equally represented in the labour market. During the same period we have seen a considerable increase in women’s education. And today the number of highly educated young women even slightly exceeds that of young men. There is no doubt that this development has been an important factor for the economic growth in Denmark.

We have come a long way in providing rights and equal opportunities – not least through a combination of strong legal protection and an emphasis on enforcement of equal treatment in public services - such as free education for all. Naturally, the current situation has not come about overnight – but the main transformation has taken place in a few decades.

Much can be achieved in a relatively short time span. But it takes strong political leadership. And in particular it takes responsibility to ensure that gender equality is recognised as the way forward for society at large.

There are many impressive women leaders, politicians and entrepreneurs all over Africa. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of them and have been encouraged by talks with for instance women bankers in Tanzania, and with women ministers and heads of governments like Prime Minister Louisa Diogo of Mozambique. These women serve as important role models for African women. I think this potential could be put to even better use.

Gender gaps exist in all countries. But in the African context the gap is considerable. Although African women participate in many sectors of the economy, the majority operate in the informal sector related to agriculture. It is estimated that women account for 60 – 80 percent of the African agricultural labour force and indeed of the food production. In fact, they work to the extent that time-poverty is a real issue.

But at the same time they do not enjoy important basic rights on an equal level. They own but a tiny fraction of the land. And they have no or only limited access to financial services and productive resources. Lack of education and employment opportunities for women in Africa has reduced annual per capita.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A well-educated population can be the strongest asset of any country. And highly skilled human capital is key to attracting foreign investments. More education for women and girls is an investment in human capital. And also, education has well-known positive impact on child mortality and to the health and nutrition of the family. Education reduces fertility rates and helps lower the risk of HIV/AIDS. And education improves women’s job opportunities and thus the income of families.

Investing in education and investing in job opportunities - especially for women and girls - is really smart economics. In short, investing in women is an investment in - not only one – but in all of the Millennium Development Goals.

Therefore, I want Denmark to remain at the forefront of putting the empowerment of women at the heart of our partnership with Africa . We all know the tremendous potential gains. We share obligations and joint commitments. And we know what it takes to ensure an effective implementation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What we need to provide now is strong joint political leadership. The Africa Partnership Forum is important for consolidating and further developing our partnership in this regard. I encourage you to ensure that strong messages on empowerment of women and gender equality are send to the G8 Summit, to the AU Summit and to the EU-Africa Summit in December this year.

It is time to act. We owe it to the African women and men and to the development of the whole continent.

Thank you very much.