The Official Transcript of Lilian O. Ajayi‘s Keynote address on Africa Day at Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin. Download a copy of the Presentation slides. The official Press release is available here and the presentation slides are available here

Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguish Delegates, Special Guests, the Leadership Council of TIDI, Fellow Speakers, and Members of the Press. Thank for the opportunity to visit Dublin, Ireland and thank you for the privilege to speak at the 2015 Africa Day Event at Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin, Ireland. The Global Connections for Women Foundation (GC4W) is excited to play a critical part in the TIDI 2015 Africa Day event at Trinity College.

The year 2015 marks a critical junction for all nations – as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals concludes, while the Sustainable Development Goals are realized with a more Gender-Focused Agenda – to further ensure that gender equality and women empowerment programs remain at the forefront of all post-2015 global development initiatives.

The year 2015 also marks the 3rd year anniversary of the Global Connections for Foundation – which has grown into one of the leading international non-profits of the millennium in the areas of gender equality and women empowerment. Our Global Commitment is to enrich the lives of 100,000 women and girls – by the end of 2015.

Today, new commitments to reverse the trend of gender inequality extends beyond world leaders — as private individuals, not-for-profit entities, and corporations have also ignited their global commitment for women empowerment – with promising results and epic resolutions.

I feel truly honored to be invited to speak on the Status of Women and Girls in Africa and the Rest of the World at such a momentous occasion. It is my hope that my presentation today inspires you to “Lean In”, “take action” and join the global efforts of reversing the trend of Gender Inequality in your country and the rest of the world.

As an African descendant, I am greatly honored to stand here on the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Conference and to inspire change in empowering the future of women in Africa, while analyzing the current platform of action.

The Historical Reverence: 20 years ago, an unprecedented number of 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists filled the seats at the opening of the “Fourth World Conference on Women” in September 1995. They all had a singular and yet unanimous commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women around the world. Hillary Clinton, then First Lady of the United States (now U.S Presidential Candidate) delivered the keynote address saying “Let be known that women’s rights are human rights – and human rights are women’s rights.”

And after much political debate the “Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action” was enacted. This document provided a comprehensive list of 12 key areas for advancing women’s rights. Those 12 areas of concerns include; women and the environment, women in power and decision-making, the girl child, women and the economy, women and poverty, violence against women, human rights of women, education and training of women, women and health and a few others.

After the official declaration of the importance of empowering women and girls, came another debate – are we doing enough to support women and girls, what progress has been achieved and where should we turn our focus to fully reverse the remaining threats of Gender Inequality in the World.

Now imagine a world where all women and girls can fully exercise their freedom to choose their religion, exercise the rights to an education, where women earn equal wages compared to their male counterpart – and a time women and girls are free from violence.

Progress Report since 1995….

On March 9th, 2015, the Clinton Foundation through “No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project” released a Data-Driven Analysis of Gender Equality and progress made since 1995.

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With Women and Health, the life expectancy of women and girls have significantly improved. Globally, 45% are less likely to die from pregnancy complications and 35% less likely in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Global maternal mortality of women and girls declined by 42% since 1995, and in South Asia at nearly 60%. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the life expectancy of a woman is close to 52 years old due to perils of HIV/AIDS – which has grown twice as much since 1995.

Women still earn less than their male counterpart, but the number of women in the labor force is starting to improve – but in very few countries. Latin America had the largest growth since 1995. But, the gap in equal pay saw no change in two decades. 55% of women are part of the Labor force Globally, compared to the 82% of their male counterpart.

The awareness of violence against women and girls has significantly improved since 1995, in part because several laws prohibiting violence against women exist today. However, one in three women are still likely to experience physical or sexual violence from their male partner – especially with the girl child. The need for greater law enforcements remains outstanding in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the world.

Since 1995, a steady growth continues in the participation of women in Political and Economic sectors. There are twice as many women in political positions – they occupy 22 percent of seats in national legislatures. But women are still underrepresented in political positions and in leadership positions. Since 1995 and after the UN resolutions on permitting more women in conflict resolutions, it had only improved by 10%.

Lastly, with education – more girls are going to school. But almost 2/3 of illiterate adults in the world are women – an approximately 496 million – many of whom are women in rural communities. 

Women’s Rights Capacity Building in Africa:

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But how do we ensure that women’s rights are equally championed? We need to enact a model that works for each country by reviewing where they rank on the Gender-related Development Index – GDI measures the cost of Gender inequality, the higher the GDI value the more disparities exist between men and women. The GDI was designed to better expose the differences in the distributions of achievements between women and men.

Countries with a greater number of GDI should revamp their policies and address gender inequalities in their countries by sectors – Agriculture, Health, Education, Business, Political, Human rights and etc. Some argue that the domestic needs of the rural population are underrepresented in social, political and economic policies before and after 1995.

Others argue for uniformity in equal protection of women’s economic development under the law – and more enforcement are required for a progressive construct. Both arguments point at the lack of accountability on either part on their failure to act decisively in the protection of women’s rights.

What is required in capacity building for empowering the futures of African Women?

  1. Improve access to Land ownership & Equitable Financial Services for Women Farmers – Countries with the highest ranking of Hunger Index also holds the largest cases of gender inequalities. Women Farmers in Developing countries accounts for over 80% of farmers and yet less than 30% land ownership. Empowering women farmers provides a great opportunity to subvert poverty in Africa. They need training and refined agricultural policies that protect them. They need access to land ownership, legal support, and access to equitable financial resources to fund their purchase.
  1. Increase access to Education and Job Training. Many of the reasons why some countries still struggle with fully enacting gender equality and women empowerment has to do with their an ineffectiveness in access to education and job training. Countries need to improve and increase women’s access to sustainable education and job training programs. If 2/3 of the world’s illiterate are women – more action is required to support them.
  1. Empower Her & Invest in Women Entrepreneurship. Women are the engine of the private sector, women run the economy of any nation – because they are more into commerce than Men” said by my lovely mother – Chief Temitope Ajayi (Mama Diaspora) in her address at last annual meeting of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund.

Most key economic development findings suggest that women-owned businesses grow at a greater rate than those owned by men. The intention of this statement is not to infer that one gender is better than other – but to specifically point at the need to earnest the full potential of women in this sector.

If we are to empower women entrepreneurs in Africa, we need to provide them with access to financial resources to support their business. They need access to the Global Markets with public-private partnerships in favor of women. They need access to mentors, training and monitoring, and continuing education in a more attainable fashion.

But, how do we continue to inspire Change in Africa:

  1. Change in Attitude in gender roles. Women are compliments of their male counterpart and not their competition, and that women are effective leaders.
  1. Change in Attitude towards historical values. Respect the roles of our female ancestors and their traditional roles. But try to transform their old ideology to modern times to meet the needs of women and their families.
  1. Change in attitude in thinking its not up to me. We cannot achieve this goal without the support our men for the fight for Gender Equality is a universal fight. United we must stand as we insist that gender equality and women empowerment are the normal and expected way of life.

I close with a recent quote from Phumzile, the Executive Director of UN Women – in her final remarks at the 2015 Commission on the Status of Women at the UN in New York,

“Change is coming and change has to come.”

Thank You.

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