Youth with a vision - Side-event Belgium, UNICEF & Benin

Your Majesty, Minister, Mr Deputy Executive Director, dear all – especially all the young people in the room, the UNICEF Youth Leaders, the Belgian Youth Representatives,

Thank you for numerous presence and support.

I would like to thank especially Her Majesty Queen Mathilde for her kind and warm words of introduction. Your Majesty, you have not only been travelling the world as SDG Advocate to promote the SDGs, including SDG5 focused on Gender Equality.

But I know that as a mother, of two daughters and two sons, you are particularly sensitive to the subject of Gender Equality.

By the way, your daughter Crown Princess Elisabeth will one day become our first female Head of State. It will be an important step, since female leadership is fundamental in reaching gender equality.

Gender equality is one of the pillars of our humanity. We all are born equal. We all have the same inalienable rights. No matter what our colour of skin, our race, our gender is. Yet, too often this fundamental equality is violated and offended.

Just to cite a few figures:

  • Every day, 37.000 young girls that have not reached the age of 18 years old, get married – often with a man that is double their age. It is a dazzling number. It means that since I’ve started to talk more than 40 girls have entered a life in dependency.
  • In 18 countries, men can deny their woman the right to go out and work. In 39 countries girls do not have the same inheritance rights as boys. And in 49 countries, there is no legal framework that protects women from domestic violence. Behind these figures are thousands, millions of girls and women that cannot fulfil their full potential.

Let me share a brief story, Your Majesty.

Earlier this year, we travelled to Ghana together, where we met with a young girl. She told us her heart-breaking story of how she got pregnant at the age of fourteen. She thought her live was over. It is custom that a girl who becomes pregnant is “handed over” to the family of the boy where she spends the rest of her life raising her child.

The girl told us she had ample information about how to prevent a pregnancy – let alone that she had access to contraceptives. Luckily enough, because of the commitment and work of people from UNICEF she could stay in her own family and finish her school.

The story of girls like her, is precisely the reason why Belgium started last year, the She Decides Initiative, together with the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. To raise funds and awareness for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women. Because every woman and every girl should have the right to decide for herself how many children she wants. I am very happy it is evolved in the meantime into a broad global movement.

And together with Global Citizen and strong partners, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Procter & Gamble and the Government of Luxemburg, Belgium is building on the success of She Decides with the launch of the international campaign #SheIsEqual. Our goal is clear and ambitious: we want to raise more than 500 million in commitments for gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s health. To improve the lives of 20 million of women and girls.

In this fight, we will also have to tackle more subtle inequalities between boys and girls, men and women. The gender pay gap, for example.

In my own country, Belgium, women earn on average 6,1 percent less than men. In Europe, the gender pay gap is 16,2 percent. This is not only an unjust but also a very costly affair. The World Bank has indicated that, because of the gender pay gap, the global community misses each year 160 trillion US dollar of welfare and prosperity.

Of course, women’s and girls’ rights are so much more than plain economic value. Fighting for equal rights is fighting for basic human dignity. It is fighting for a fair chance for every young girl – and boy! - to build their own future. To get educated. To realize their full potential.

Your Majesty, as you’ve already mentioned: to achieve real gender equality we have to work together. Girls and boys, men and women. Countries across the world. But above all we need a young generation that steps up and speaks out.

I look very much forward to the discussion with all young people present here. And I hope it energizes our common ambition to realize equal rights for girls and women. Because She Is Equal! Thank you.

Youth with a vision - Side-event Belgium, UNICEF & BeninYouth with a vision - Side-event Belgium, UNICEF & Benin