Helvi Sipilän ja Lucille Mairin muistoksi järjestetty tilaisuus: pysyvän edustajan, suurlähettiläs Jarmo Viinasen tervetulosanat New Yorkissa 9.3.2010
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to address this event commemorating two great women leaders - Helvi Sipilä of Finland and Lucille Mair of Jamaica. These two women have through their action proven that – and I quote Helvi Sipilä - “the impossible can be made possible”. Both of them have through their remarkable careers both nationally and internationally paved the way for women’s rights, women’s participation and women’s leadership worldwide. They have showed that women’s participation in decision-making does matter.
We will have the opportunity later during in this event to discuss in greater detail the legacy and contributions of Helvi Sipilä to the women’s movement. Let me, however, draw your attention here to the reasons that drove Ms Sipilä to her relentless work for the advancement of women. In her own words “I started out as a female lawyer, but soon turned into a promoter of women’s rights. This was primarily due to my practical experience of the weaker position of women rather than any sentimental conviction.”
This approach is equally valid today as it was when Helvi Sipilä became one of the first female lawyers in Finland in 1939, when she was appointed the first female Assistant-Secretary General of the UN in 1972 and when she was the first woman to stand for the office of the President of Finland in 1982.
The road to the full realization of women’s rights is still long - thirty-five years after the UN World Conference for the Advancement of Women in Mexico. In the spirit of Helvi Sipilä we must continue the work to ensure women the right to education, to physical integrity, to make informed decisions on their sexual and reproductive health as well as the participation in working life on equal footing with men. And we must continue our work to guarantee women’s equal rights in marriage as well as women’s right to own property and right to inheritance.
For the promotion of the human rights of women it is important that women's victimization is rejected and action is taken to prevent it. However, this is only one side of the coin. The world can ill afford not to empower women, half of its most valuable resource. Women should be seen as active agents of change. In order to ensure full realization of the rights of women, women should be involved in decision-making at all levels. To make this a reality more women must be in high-level positions in decision-making both nationally and internationally.
Here I would like to applaud Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who has chosen the right path by nominating more women to top UN positions than any of his predecessors. Latest example is only from yesterday, the nomination of Ann-Marie Orler as the UN Police Adviser, the highest ranking police officer in the UN system.
It is crucial that women’s involvement in national and international negotiation processes is based on a true participation and a true possibility to influence the negotiations. This way we can ensure that women’s perspective is taken into account and that decisions taken are comprehensive and effective. In many cases women are primarily responsible for implementing negotiated agreements on the ground and sustainable solutions cannot be achieved without their involvement. The whole society profits from women's participation. It is not only an equality issue.
A study by Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA on female leadership and firm profitability (2007) indicates that a company led by a female CEO is on average more profitable than a corresponding company led by a male CEO. The share of female board members also has a similar positive impact. Why is this? The study did not give definite answers, but there are some suggestions. Women may be better leaders than men. It may also be that women’s participation in business life brings a broader perspective to the work of companies and therefore attracts a broader spectrum of clientele. The study speaks for gender-neutral career opportunities because they are fair, but also because they are also in the best interest of private companies.
In this context, I would like to draw your attention to “Women’s Empowerment Principles – Equality Means Business” launched by UN Global Compact and UNIFEM today. These principles provide for seven steps for companies to take to empower women in the workplace.
Let’s not rest until we have reached gender equality and women’s full empowerment. We will all profit – women or men – from the advancement of women. In commemorating Helvi Sipilä and Lucille Mair this event offers an excellent opportunity to exchange best practices and challenges in our work. We are here to learn from each other and I look forward to the contributions of all participants. Let me express my gratitude to Assistant-Secretary General Rachel Mayanja for having taken the initiative to organize this event.