Speech by Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lövin at UN Women panel discussion in Juba, South Sudan, celebrating International Women’s Day, 8 March 2016

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Photo: Gabriel Liljenström/Government Offices

Excellences, ladies and gentlemen, panellists and friends,

I am honoured to be here with you today to celebrate International Women's Day, to honour your work and learn from your experiences.

I thank UN Women for organising this event and for their close and productive cooperation over several years here in South Sudan and elsewhere in the world.

I know that you – the women of South Sudan – are in a battle. I know that you have lived through decades of war and violence that have permeated the very fabric of your society.

I also know that your consistent hard efforts are making a difference – laying the ground work for peace and a better future for your children.

The stories of our sisters that I have met in other war-torn countries – Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon and Liberia – have made deep impressions and will stay with me forever. They have made my commitment to women's rights and gender equality even stronger.

In a time when warlords with guns are trying to set the agenda – driving millions of people from their homes, creating long-lasting wounds that will take decades or sometimes centuries to heal – you stand out as the true heroes and 'peace lords' of our time.

You ensure safety for your families, put food on the table, mediate conflicts in your communities, build bridges between groups and strive to bury the hatred – looking ahead to the future – rather than holding on to the violent past.

I am proud to represent the first explicitly feminist government in the world. We are convinced that gender equality is the foundation of sustainable development and we are now working hard to ensure that all our policies in all political fields have a gender perspective.

I would argue that Sweden's own success is linked to our improvement in the area of gender equality. This includes important reforms such as:

  • Parental leave – the rapid expansion of child care provision, preschools and individual parental insurance. Both parents are equally entitled by law to parental leave.
  • Maternal health care – providing access to professional midwives and education about sexual and reproductive health and rights. A century ago many women in Sweden died in pregnancy or childbirth, now almost all survive. Exercising control over your own body is also the first building block of a truly democratic society and key for economic development. Girls who become mothers are often forced to quit school, perpetuating the cycle of poverty for their children.

Today, Sweden is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, and has one of the highest standards of living.

This has not always been the case.

I am harvesting the fruits of my mother's and grandmother's struggle. Together with women throughout Sweden, they fought to become full citizens – to gain rights, resources and representation. This fight continues.

Feminism – gender equality and inclusive politics – is needed more than ever.

We are living at a time when armed conflicts yet again are on the rise, where almost half of all peace agreements fail within five years, where each day over 42 000 women, men, girls and boys are forced to leave their homes due to conflicts and persecution, where the average length of conflict-induced displacement is 17 years. This illustrates that we desperately need new ways of building peaceful and resilient societies.

Research and our own experience demonstrate that women's inclusion and participation is critical to achieving successful and sustainable peace that encompasses all citizens.

The UN Security Council has stated that widespread sexual violence during and after conflicts undermines the chances for peace and security.

Despite this – as you know all too well – these facts have not led to any real change on the ground. Of the 1 168 peace agreements signed between 1990 and 2013, only 18 per cent made any reference to women or gender. From 1992 to 2011 less than four per cent of signatories to peace agreements were women. The recurring violence against women and children is absolutely appalling and continues to shatter lives, families and communities.

This must change if we are going to stop the vicious circle of armed conflicts.

You, the women of South Sudan, have shown your leaders and the world that you won't be silenced or sidestepped.

You have a proud history of fighting for a seat at the table during peace negotiations and for trying to bridge divides in times of conflict. Groups such as the Sudanese Women Association in Nairobi, Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace and, most recently, all the women who participated in the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa deserve recognition.

You have shown that progress can be made, despite extremely difficult circumstances. South Sudan's accession to CEDAW last year was an important landmark. Work on the national gender policy has pointed the way forward. Our Embassy has reported on the inspirational efforts of girls and young women across South Sudan to end child marriage and ensure equal access to education.

Sweden has been a steadfast supporter of women's rights and women's participation in the peace process in South Sudan. Our support stretches from development cooperation to political dialogue. We are pleased and proud to be the largest donor to UN Women in South Sudan, and also to be able to support the government and organisations working on women's health and midwifery, including supporting and educating midwives in different parts of the country.

You can rest assured that I will raise gender issues in all my meetings during my two days here in Juba.

I look forward to our discussion here today to learn how Sweden can enhance the work for women's rights and peacebuilding in South Sudan.

Our discussions and my visit are also very timely and important for two other reasons:

Firstly, in April, I will host a high-level meeting in Stockholm, together with Minister of Finance and Economic Development Kaifala Marah of Sierra Leone. We are co-Chairs of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding – of which South Sudan is a member. Our ambition is that leaders from donor countries and fragile states will commit to a new deal for peace – the Stockholm Declaration. Evidently your experience is extremely important here.

And secondly, in May, the first ever World Humanitarian Summit will be held. I would therefore like to take the opportunity to hear from you how humanitarian response can better ensure the protection and participation of women and girls. I will use my presence at the Summit to voice your call to action.

Thank you.