Statement by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the high-level event on Women’s Economic Empowerment, “She for Business”, Addis Ababa, 15 October 2019

Madame President, Madame Executive Director, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to address you here today. I would like to start by commending Ethiopia’s new administration for the progress it has made in appointing women leaders.

Starting with your Excellency, Madame President Zahle-Work, women have risen to leadership positions both in the government and in the private sector. It is no accident that the Norwegian Nobel Committee listed “significantly increasing the influence of women in Ethiopian political and community life” as part of the justification for the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to your Prime Minister Abiy last week.

In Finland, over half of the ministers of the new government are women. Our new government gives gender equality a re-enforced focus in our foreign, security and development policy. Our active gender work and advocacy is global, particularly in cooperation with UN Women. We are proud to be one of its strongest supporters.

For me personally, being a HeForShe Impact Champion is a role that I highly value. In that capacity, I have made three commitments.

First, to decrease violence against women in Finland – despite being one of the most equal societies in the world, this still is a serious problem. Second, to realize UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security – very topical as we approach the 20th anniversary of its adoption next year. And third, to promote women’s economic leadership – which comes close to the topic of today’s event.

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Early possibilities for education and political participation were the key to Finnish women’s empowerment. This is the theme of the exhibition at display here, and I invite you all to have a closer look at it.

Inclusion of women and gender equality are essential for sustainable peace and development. Women’s economic empowerment is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for a good reason. The Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved without accelerated action to empower women economically.

Women are over-represented at the bottom of the wealth pyramid. One of the key interventions to reduce their poverty is to improve girls’ access to education. And not only access to, but also completion of education. We need to support girls’ and young women’s education career all the way from pre-primary to vocational and higher education.

We also need to end child, early and forced marriage. I applaud Ethiopia for having launched a road map to achieve this, and you, Madame President, for being such a strong advocate for it. This links directly to one of Finland’s top priorities in development cooperation, namely sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.

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In many countries, ensuring rural women’s access to decent work requires particular attention. Implementation of international labour standards and codes of conduct forms the basis for decent employment. Rural women would benefit from awareness raising on labour conditions and employment rights.

Here the private sector has an important role to play. Socially responsible businesses could create jobs and business opportunities for women living in difficult circumstances. Promoting micro- and small entrepreneurship, collective action and value-adding strategies enables women to take advantage of new opportunities.

In today’s world, information and communication technology makes a big difference in rural development. Mobile phones have enabled women to stay connected in remote areas, coordinate their duties and reduce the costs of money transfers. The currently poor access of rural women to advisory services and to finance can be improved by mobile platforms.

With this in mind, Finland’s development financier Finnfund has invested in the company providing mobile money services in Ethiopia. The cash transfers of M-Birr save time and create access to necessary goods and services. They offer women the opportunity to manage household finances independently.

Rural women’s economic empowerment is an important part of our bilateral programs in Ethiopia. Allow me to mention a few examples.

First, the agribusiness program Agrobig provides loans for rural women and youth in the Amhara region through cooperatives. 80 % of the 1800 borrowers are female farmers, who have managed to increase their production and incomes. The repayment rate of the loans was 100 % during the first year.

Second, the land administration program REILA has succeeded in advocating women’s land rights. More land titles have been registered for women than for men. The economic value of land has increased and the land title can be used as a collateral for a loan.

And third, in rural water supply and sanitation, Finland has since 1994 enabled over 5,1 million people to have access to clean water. The water point nearer to the household gives more time for women and girls to attend school and to other activities.

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Women’s economic empowerment is not complete anywhere in the world. A lot of work remains to be done in all of our societies. And as with all major changes in societies, a lot depends on the mindsets. I believe that our focus should be on changing the social norms that may hamper a full inclusion of women. Such norms influence policies and practices of governments, businesses and international financial institutions.

Women’s economic empowerment is not only about micro entrepreneurship or rural development. We should also look at women’s roles in business life more generally, including at the very top of the food chain. I personally would want to see more women as leaders of medium-sized and large companies.

I hope that the presence of several Finnish female business leaders here today provides opportunities for fruitful exchanges with their Ethiopian counterparts. I myself look forward to continuing the discussion with many of you.