Italian Cultural Institute in New York, September 24 – 15 min.
Excellencies, Director, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased and honoured to address you at the close of this Conference on the protection of women’s rights.
I wish to thank the Italian Minister for Equal Opportunities, the Hon. Mara Carfagna, for having pursued with such determination the organisation of this event. The Vice President of the Italian Senate, Emma Bonino, and the UN Special Advisor, Rachel Mayanja, have provided us with interesting and stimulating contributions, for which I am also grateful. Allow me also to express my appreciation of the numerous Italian and American personalities who have contributed to the success of this event. Special thanks
to the Director of the Italian Cultural Institute and his staff for their hard work, inspiration and hospitality.
Talking about women’s rights in 2010 is itself powerful evidence of an historical anomaly, to resolve and overcome which will require more attention and increased efforts.
For many women around the world, enjoying full respect for their human rights is still a mirage, obstructed by traditional attitudes inspired by patriarchal systems, by mentalities that evolve only slowly and – sometimes – by the instrumental use of religion. In the Western world, huge progress has been made, as proved by the increasing number of women in leading positions in international politics and economics. The glass ceiling has cracked, but it has not been shattered yet.
Gender issues have an extraordinary impact on demographic and socio-economic dynamics. It has been demonstrated that women’s empowerment and wider involvement in public affairs have enormous positive effects on families, communities and societies as a whole. Women’s exclusion from the productive life of their country is a waste of talent, a waste that we can no longer afford.
But there is one point I would especially like to stress. Women represent approximately half of our countries’ populations. Without their full integration in society, and without guarantees of their being able to express themselves freely, there can be no real democracy.
Hence, granting women’s rights and fighting discrimination, abuse and violence against them is not just a moral and humanitarian commitment. It is also intrinsically linked with peace, sustainable development, growth, democracy and stability. In other words, with progress. If this is true, putting the gender issue at the top of the international agenda is not just something that we should do to protect a part of the population. It is something that we must do to defend the interests of each and every one of us, and the well-being of humanity.
In this sense, it cannot but be a priority concern for the UN.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Italy has a long-standing history of international commitment to the improvement of women's conditions wherever they appear to be systematically impoverished. The cross-cutting issues of gender equality, women's empowerment, their protection from violence and trafficking, and the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM), have since the 1980s been central elements in the Italian foreign policy agenda. That is why, in the UN system, we welcome the establishment of “UN Women”. I wish to congratulate the Chilean former President, Michelle Bachelet, for being appointed head of this new entity. As an experienced and well-known consensus-seeking leader, she has the best profile to accomplish this task.
On the bilateral level, this issue has always been a key priority for Italian development cooperation policy. It is pursued through various programmes aimed at fostering the reconciliation of work and family life, participation in post-conflict reconstruction, access to jobs and the development of entrepreneurial skills.
Our international action has been focused on supporting initiatives in the main multilateral fora that address gender issues.
Strengthening cooperation with multilateral agencies, especially within the UN system, is one of our major commitments. In recognition of our activity, last January Italy was elected as a member of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
We are proud of having co-sponsored and made a significant contribution to the definition of UNSC Resolution 1820 on sexual violence in armed conflicts, a historic achievement stating that sexual violence, when used as a weapon of war, may well be a crime against humanity but also one that endangers international peace and security.
As President of the G8 in 2009, Italy included the issue of violence against women into the agenda for the first time. The high-level participation in the ad hoc international Conference held in September 2009 contributed to the approval of an Italian Presidency Conclusions document. I brought this document to the attention of my G8 colleagues with a view to keeping the issue at the top of the agenda.
The efforts that I have mentioned are of paramount importance, yet still insufficient. We are all aware that women’s rights can be violated not only in the context of armed conflicts, but also – and with as much ease and impunity - within the household. Female genital mutilation, one of the most heinous violations imposed on young women, bears constant testimony of that.
Therefore, since September 2009, Italy has been engaged, together with many of our African partners, in an international initiative aimed at presenting a Resolution on the issue at the General Assembly. Over the last 12 months, several meetings and events have been organized to foster support for this proposal. We believe that such a resolution would be a major political step in eliminating this practice, which affects millions of women throughout the world (including in Italy, where we have an estimated 35,000 cases of FGM).
Two days ago, I chaired a well-attended ministerial meeting here in New York to take stock of the progress made so far. There is some work still to be done but I am confident that all these initiatives have created a unique momentum that the international community will seize. We believe that the time has come to present an ad hoc resolution on FGM at the UN General Assembly.
In conclusion, let me express how honoured I was to be invited by the UN Secretary General to participate in the recently launched “Network of Men Leaders”, together with politicians, activists, religious and community figures specifically committed to the elimination of violence against women. It was a sign of appreciation and recognition of our long-standing efforts in this field.
Ladies and gentlemen,
More than 20 years after the Council of Europe Declaration on equality between women and men, bridging the gap between legal and real equality is still a challenge for many member States, including my own.
In its efforts to take the necessary and appropriate measures, the Italian Government has initiated a process to draft a National Action Plan which will engage our public institutions, representatives of civil society, and regional and local government in a comprehensive consultation programme. Once completed, the plan will be a strategic tool to implement UNSC Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security through coordinated domestic policies.
Allow me to close this Conference by expressing my deep gratitude to you for your valuable contributions to this event and for the attention that you, like us, continue to pay to the questions that have been addressed here today.