Singer Annie Lennox and Denmark’s Princess Mary called on Monday for men to join the fight for women’s equality as they opened the world’s biggest women’s health and rights conference in a decade in Copenhagen.
Some 5,500 delegates from over 160 countries – including policy makers, business leaders, health workers, activists and celebrities – are attending the fourth Women Deliver conference.
But with data showing women still die in childbirth unnecessarily, face high levels of violence and are more deeply impacted than men by poverty, conference leaders said it was time everyone joined the campaign for gender equality.
“Without men it’s going to be much more challenging to advance our goals. We must be in this together,” said Lennox, a campaigner on women’s rights and HIV/AIDS.
The three-day conference will discuss how to put girls and women at the heart of the new United Nations global goals – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which were agreed by world leaders last year to fight inequality and extreme poverty.
Princess Mary described girls and women as the “world’s greatest untapped resource”.
“The evidence is sound; when we invest in girls and women society as a whole benefits,” she said.
“This agenda is not a woman’s agenda but a united agenda for humanity that involves men, women, girls and boys,” she added to loud applause.
But speakers said there was still a long way to go.
One woman dies every two minutes from pregnancy and childbirth related complications which are mostly preventable, 70 percent have experienced violence or sexual abuse, 15 million girls are married off as children every year and 200 million have been forced to undergo female genital mutilation.
Women Deliver CEO Katja Iversen said the world would never achieve the U.N.’s global goals unless there was serious investment in girls and women.
“When you invest in girls and women there’s a ripple effect that goes way beyond the individual. It benefits families, it benefits communities, it benefits societies,” she said.
“Women deliver – and so much more than babies,” she said.
Key topics at the conference include improving girls’ and women’s access to education and jobs, boosting their digital and financial inclusion, cutting maternal mortality rates and reducing the burden of unpaid care that falls on women.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told the conference that gender equality was “no longer a sideshow” but increasingly recognized as a key driver for development and economic growth.
“It’s not just a fight for women, it’s a fight for all of us – women and men. It’s a fight for a better and more prosperous world,” he said.
“Some say growth and prosperity are the best ways to ensure equal gender opportunities. I actually think it’s the other way round.”
He said Denmark – which is widely considered one of the most equal countries in the world – was proof that equal gender opportunities create a path towards growth and prosperity.
Babatunde Osotimehin, head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said many men were “very frightened” of women’s empowerment and this had increased violence against women.
“In countries where education has gone up and you see women in the work place and they are doing things for themselves, you see a rise in gender based violence,” Osotimehin said.
He said there was a need to work with men and boys to tackle machismo and to teach boys from an early age that it was fine for a girl to be first in the class.
Lennox said she had been surprised that feminism had become a divisive term and called for its acceptance again.
“We must keep the word feminism,” she said. “We all have a role to play.”
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)