Honorable Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs,
Ambassador of the European Union to Eswatini,
UN Resident Coordinator,
Business Eswatini Representatives,
Representatives from the business communities,
non-governmental organizations and civil society,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All protocols observed.
It is an honor and a privilege to be here with you today to celebrate International Women’s Day. I am inspired by the work you do to empower women in business, and I applaud your efforts to create gender equality in the workspace.
March is Women’s History Month in the U.S.—a time to remember and honor the fearless women who fought for the equality and human rights of women. It is also a time to recognize those leading the charge for continued advancement.
Today I was asked to speak about “women doing it all.” That is a provocative topic! I think it has been well demonstrated that women are capable of doing it all. The question for me is do women have the rights and freedom to do what they want to do.
Perhaps it would be helpful to reframe the discussion within the context of gender equity. Women AND men should be empowered to “do it all.” That is, we must break down social norms and cultural expectations that hold both women and men back. The UN defines gender equity as “the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration… Gender equality is not a women’s issue but should concern and fully engage men as well as women.
Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.”
Everyone here is working to break down barriers to women’s equality, counter negative gender stereotypes, chip away at social norms that block women from participating in the economy across a huge range of sectors, and learn how to mentor the next generation of Swati women business leaders who will follow in this charge. These are achievable goals, and I am encouraged to see so many people here ready to support them.
At the same time, let’s also challenge patriarchal structures and expectations that hold men back from serving in non-traditional roles and participating fully in the responsibilities of family life – including childcare and unpaid work at home. Men should also be valued as fathers and caregivers – they should be empowered to “do it all.”
We are also here today to talk about the impact of COVID. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, who often hold jobs that are more vulnerable to economic shocks, and who are already in a weaker social position to challenge abuse and human rights violations. The pandemic has shined a light on areas of inequality long overlooked, and it has led to a horrific and unacceptable spike in domestic abuse and violence.
As Eswatini emerges from the COVID crisis, women will play a key role in economic recovery. The United States has launched a $1 million project to empower women to participate more meaningfully in the economy. The project, called Women’s Employment for Economic Recovery in the wake of COVID, will help Emaswati women access credit, address legal and cultural barriers to economic participation, and develop male allies to bolster and sustain these efforts.
Next week, the AGOA Utilization Strategy and Implementation Plan for the Kingdom of Eswatini will be launched. The AGOA program, through export assistance, provides entrepreneurs the opportunity to revive their business and create jobs.
I am so grateful that Business Women Eswatini is honoring women in leadership this month, and that you invited me to speak with you today. As a newcomer to Eswatini, I look forward to learning from you. Thank you for your role in promoting gender equality – women AND men can do it all!