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World leaders opened European Development Days

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This year’s European Development Days opened in Brussels with comments from world leaders including Queen Mathilde of Belgium and Queen Letizia of Spain, as well as top EU officials and presidents and prime ministers from Europe and Africa.

The 12th edition of the conference runs June 5 and 6, and has over 8,000 participant. It was organized by the European Commission. Most speakers hit on the key themes that women make up half the population, but fall behind in terms of access to education, and representation in politics and in the economy. There are specific issues such as violence against women that need to be addressed globally, and not just in the developing world.

The theme this year is Women and Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development: protect, empower, invest.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker laid out the broad outlines of the conference.
He urged people to act together to empower women as this was best for all aspects of society, and helped to promote peace.

He also cited regional issues facing women, such as female genital mutilation in Africa and people trafficking in Asia.

When women have access to education, the quality is sometimes needs to be improved, he said.
It is also important for the European Commission to work not only with governments, but also on a grass roots level, directly with people. “Change has to come from within a society. Together, we can do better and we will do better,” he said.

Queen Mathilde of Belgium welcomed the international delegates, as the EDD conference was hosted in her country. One issue she mentioned that others did not was that mental health issues often hold women back, and more needs to be done in that area.

She also cited child marriage and the young age at which many women give birth in the developing world as issues that hold back not just women but all of society. Recently child abduction has also been an issue in the developing world.

“When it comes to sustainable development, women and girls do indeed require special attention. Very often they need protection but above all they are an essential force for the implementation of Agenda 2030,” Queen Mathilde said, referring to to the European Commission’s goals for sustainable development.

Queen Letizia of Spain mentioned the disparities around the world. On the same day a woman was appointed president of the New York Stock Exchange for the first time, she was in Haiti talking to a 17-year-old girl who had a 3-year-old son. Th girl had nothing to eat, and could not read or write.
“You all probably know about hundreds, thousands perhaps, of cases that show similar disparities all around the world. … You also know that when referring to human development there is more to it than just pure economic growth,” she said.

She added that Europe was built upon such values as freedom and solidarity. “Europe plays an essential role in the social policies that lead the way to cooperation. As the UN and the European Commission affirm, a crosscutting equality approach is the backbone in the development of the capacities that every human being deserves: education opportunities, access to health services and quality nutrition and to move freely and safely. Fighting the combination of poverty and gender inequality, demands a balance between both the public and private spheres in our life, between the political and economic, and family and beliefs, she said.

Malta’s President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca discussed the gender pay gap, and said that in some places it was even larger than a decade ago. “I would like to encourage us all … to take up more effective strategies for the increased inclusion of women in the socioeconomic sectors of our Union,” she said.

She also mentioned the need to end all forms of gender-based violence. “There is a difference between knowing what it right and doing the tight thing,” she said.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that gender inequality wasted the potential of half of society. She urged people to be on “the smart side of history” and get rid of restrictions on women.
Several African leaders spoke as well. Liberia’s President George Weah said that years of conflict had left woman vulnerable, but the country was now peaceful.

“Issues of gender equality, sexual abuse and violence continue to be a major challenge. As president of Liberia, it is my responsibility to lead the efforts to address and rectify these glaring disparities in our social and economic environment,” he said, adding that his commitment to women came from his childhood.

“As a national leader, I am convinced that one of the most effective strategies to correct these situations is to take affirmative action in the interest of women and girls, such that they enjoy greater participation in national leadership. This is why, for example, when the National Election Commission required each political party a minimum of 30 percent of women candidature in parliamentary election, I raised the bar for my party to 50 percent; and I am proud to inform you that all of those women who had the courage to run were all successful,” he added.

Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré spoke about the need for legal reform to guarantee women’s rights. Eliminating child marriage and giving women increased rights over land ownership were points he raised.

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou also addressed child marriage, education inequality, and issues with clean water. Women who spend all day getting water are effectively kept out of the economy. Increasing equality would also increase the GDP, he said. Educating husbands was another issue to touched on.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani made the strongest call far action, asking for a “Marshall Plan” for Africa that would help to stem the flow of migrants by addressing the root causes.
He also touched on the topic of the conference
. “Investing in the empowerment of girls and women by promoting their access to education, finance, jobs, political and social leadership are essential levers for both economic growth and the fight against abuse and social exclusion,” he said.

The opening day included discussions on sustainable development in the garment sector, empowering women in business, ending violence against women, and protecting girls in migration and displacement.

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