The Opening Ceremony will officially launch the 12th edition of the European Development Days.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, will give the Opening Address, highlighting this year’s overarching theme “Women and Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development: protect, empower, invest”.
At his side Royalties, leading Heads of States and international decision-makers will present their vision for promoting and implementing gender equality. An open dialogue will also focus on the unprecedented initiative launched by the European Union and the United Nations aiming at eliminating violence against women at the global level: the Spotlight Initiative.
Renowned artists Angélique Kidjo and Youssou N'Dour will offer a unique musical moment on this occasion.
- The struggle for gender equality requires new approaches; business as usual is no longer an option.
- The world cannot afford to leave half of its potential unused as it seeks to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Gender equality is not only about rights for women, but enriches entire communities.
- Despite great efforts over decades, women remain the main victims of violence around the world.
Gender equality is by its nature a precondition for meeting all other SDGs. Without it, they will either not be reached, or will remain fragile. Gender equality is an enabler for many other critical development issues, from mental health to education and economic development.
For too long, development policy has treated gender equality either as an issue of human rights or an issue for women and girls who are expected to take leadership. At the policy level, it is still almost exclusively women who are driving the kinds of change required to make societies more equal and equitable, with men frequently sidestepping the issue instead of making change happen.
But just as full gender equality will benefit entire communities and societies, by making them more inclusive and just, so it is entire communities and societies that must work towards it. This includes men and boys, who must be engaged as human beings, as fathers, sons or partners, and as social and political actors. Empowering women is not a zero-sum game. In addition to being a non-negotiable human right, gender equality will make societies better and more inclusive for everyone.
Values and behaviours have to change right across communities if gender equality is to become a reality. The fight against sexual violence and gender inequality has to start with its structural underpinnings – an entire social system of patriarchy. Simply increasing the number of women allowed to participate in inherently unjust systems will do little to make these systems more just. Without equality and empowerment, political and social action will simply perpetuate today’s paradigm, which is to address the world’s injustices without half of the world’s assets.
However, old behaviours and values have shown great tenacity. Despite much attention being paid to gender equality, inequalities persist. Women are still economically disadvantaged in countries that are at very different stages of prosperity. They are still far likelier than men to marry at too young an age and to be denied an education. They are disproportionate victims of violence, especially by partners. Changing these patterns is a generational challenge.
Now, development actors are uniting forces to tackle this challenge. The European Union and the United Nations have developed a joint initiative, Spotlight, to eliminate violence against women and girls, with targeted, large-scale investments. Ensuring the physical safety and security of women and girls is a precondition for any meaningful change.
While it is critical to understand and address the systemic underpinnings of gender inequality, actions by individuals – both men and women – are also important to create more inclusive and just societies.