59th Session of Commission on the Status of Women Implementing the Beijing Platform for Action

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1 59th Session of Commission on the Status of Women Implementing the Beijing Platform for Action United Nations, New York, 9-20 March Statement by Lydia Nsekera, Representative of the Permanent Observer Office for the International Olympic Committee to the United Nations Madam Chairperson, Excellences, Distinguished Delegates, The International Olympic Committee presents its compliments to the Commission on the Status of Women and appreciates this opportunity to contribute to this review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women s rights. The Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 was a remarkable achievement, bringing together delegates from 189 countries to address a problem that has a profound effect on individuals and society worldwide. Gender inequality is one of the biggest impediments to human, social and economic development on the planet. The 1995 Conference was also a significant milestone in the recognition of sport s role in promoting positive change in general, and gender empowerment in particular. The delegates in Beijing took a giant step forward for women by acknowledging sport and physical education as a tool to develop non-discriminatory education and training; strengthen programmes that promote women s health; and eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training. We can see the influence of that Conference in subsequent UN meetings and documents that reference sport s ability to contribute to the social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls; and that support access to sport and recreational activities for women and girls. This recognition of the power of sport is in keeping with the IOC s core belief, reinforced in the Olympic Charter that access to sport is a human right. Sport should be available to all, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or any other form of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Olympic Charter compels the IOC to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels. Permanent Observer for the IOC to the UN 13 March

2 In many ways, the world today looks very different than it did 20 years ago. Women around the world have gained more control over their destinies. But this is true only for some women. Progress has been very uneven. Far too many women in fact have less freedom and fewer rights than they did in The report of the Secretary-General has reminded us that the world is very far from the vision set out in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; and that the global review of national implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern shows unacceptably slow and uneven progress. This sad reality tells the world that gender equality should be a central priority in the post-2015 development agenda. Accelerating implementation and achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will need a firm commitment from world leaders. It will require a full partnership with all parties; and full engagement of men and women together. The IOC strongly supports efforts to build on the momentum generated by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by setting new targets under the Sustainable Development Goals. Just as it has with the MDGs, sport can advance those goals. The IOC and the sports movement are ready to help. As the delegates in Beijing recognised 20 years ago, sport can be a powerful tool for promoting equality in all its forms - skin colour, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation and other differentiators in society have no relevance on the field of play. Sport is a stepping stone to social justice. Sport can be effective in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women: Challenging gender norms Sport challenges gender norms and defies negative stereotypes. It gives women and girls a chance to show themselves and others what they can achieve if given a chance. Sport helps eliminate discrimination by breaking down barriers and challenging gender norms, not only on the field of play, but also in the workplace, in the home, in schools and in other areas of society. Sport offers inspiring role models. The Olympic Games have shown what sport can do for women. Women have competed at the Games since 1900, long before they achieved the right to vote in most countries, and at a time when many female Olympians competed despite strong societal opposition. More than a century later, the Olympic Games are still the greatest global platform for female athletes. Permanent Observer for the IOC to the UN 13 March

3 Female Olympians serve as powerful role models for girls around the world, even those who do not intend to pursue a career in sport. They prove that girls can overcome societal expectations and achieve their dreams in spite of the obstacles in their way. Some return from the Games as national heroes in countries that rarely celebrate the achievements of women. Health and well-being Sport promotes healthy lifestyles and plays an essential role in combatting noncommunicable diseases. More than 38 million people die every year from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) with a direct link to physical inactivity and poor nutrition, accounting for more than two-thirds of all deaths worldwide. More than 170 million people struggle to deal with the dual threat of obesity and diabetes. Sport can help counter these disturbing statistics. Sport can also be instrumental in reducing infant and child mortality and improving postnatal recovery by increasing the personal fitness of mothers. Likewise, it can be a viable platform to disseminate information on sexual and reproductive health, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as transmissible diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. Sport promotes mental health. Research has shown a strong link between healthy bodies and healthy minds. It reduces stress, decreases mild to moderate depression and fosters the creation of emotional support and networks. As governments are working towards taking the challenge to reduce by one-third premature mortality from NCDs through prevention and treatment, and to promote mental health and well-being, in particular through healthy diets and physical activity, it is vital to give the rightful place to sport in implementing the proposed Goal 3 of the SDGs. Education (including life-skills and physical education access) Sport and physical activity programmes are widely believed to be powerful vehicles for teaching children and young people social and life skills, as well as acquiring positive attitudes, values and moral strength. Evidence-based research also demonstrates that sport and play activities can help improve learning performance and academic achievement. Sport and physical education programmes can promote a broad spectrum of life skills that build on individual capacity. Permanent Observer for the IOC to the UN 13 March

4 In this regard, as governments look within the proposed Goal 4 to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all, it is critical to ensure equal access to all levels of education, including quality physical education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including people with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations. Leadership Sport fosters self-esteem, self-perception, self-worth and self-empowerment, and promotes a broader spectrum of life skills and values such as team-building, communication, decision-making, problem-solving, personal responsibility, empathy, moral development and resilience. Sport further generates leadership capabilities by providing opportunities to develop skills in management, negotiation and decision-making that empower women and girls to become leaders in the workplace, in the home and in all areas of community life. A survey of executive women found that 80 per cent played sport in their youth; and 69 per cent said that sport contributed to their professional success. The leadership talent of retired elite female athletes, with their inherent confidence, high standards, self-discipline and ability to overcome obstacles, has tremendous value for businesses, governments and non-governmental organisations. Fight against violence Sport can help to eliminate violence against women and girls. It is being used around the world to promote social inclusion, create trust and build bridges between groups in conflict. To cite just one example, an IOC project with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) targeted gender-based violence in Uganda with a sports programme for young men and women that encouraged team play and cooperation. It included training to discourage sexual and gender-based violence. Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Panama, Venezuela and Kenya. Sport encourages women to take control over their lives and their bodies. It gives adolescent girls a sense of ownership and self-respect that encourages them to stand up for their rights. Sport offers a platform to teach boys and young men to respect women. Few other aspects of society can match sport s global reach or its impact on communities in general, and young people in particular. The IOC views the evolution of the post-2015 Development Agenda as a historic opportunity to expand sport s role as a catalyst for individual and social development worldwide. Permanent Observer for the IOC to the UN 13 March

5 We have seen what sport can accomplish in communities around the world. Since gaining UN Observer status in 2009, the IOC has expanded and strengthened its partnerships with UN agencies and programmes, including projects that use sport to advance the MDGs. By promoting healthy lifestyles, sport has contributed to progress on the MDGs related to infant mortality, maternal health and the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases. The IOC has been actively engaged in promoting gender equality in and through sport for more than 20 years. That commitment was reaffirmed and strengthened with the approval in December 2014 of Olympic Agenda 2020, a strategic roadmap for the future of the IOC and the Olympic Movement. Olympic Agenda 2020 includes a commitment by the IOC to work with International Sports Federations to achieve 50 per cent female participation in the Olympic Games and stimulate more women s participation and involvement in sport by creating more opportunities for participation at the Games. The IOC fully recognises that gender parity at the Olympic Games is not enough. That is why we invest in bringing more women into sports leadership. As of last year, the IOC had trained hundreds of women on five continents in leadership skills and in the ability to identify and dismantle areas of discrimination between 2009 and 2012.These programmes are being expanded. We are creating a mentorship programme with iconic sports figures and female sports administrators; involving young female athletes in youth sessions at IOC World Conferences; ensuring that both men and women are targeted in new system-wide outreach programmes; and establishing a data-driven evaluation system to monitor progress. Sport is not just for elite athletes. It is a human right. There are still far too many women in this world who are denied access to sport or who face societal condemnation for participating in sport. The IOC is also working to empower women and girls through sport at the grassroots level by supporting community-based programmes and efforts with the UN system and other partners. The IOC Women and Sport Commission is also encouraging initiatives that support women worldwide. The annual IOC Women and Sport Awards recognise the work of women and men throughout the world who have had a significant impact on women and sport. Last year, we honoured six remarkable women and provided financial support for the projects they initiated. For sport to truly contribute to effective and sustainable change, it requires a commitment and cooperation from all sectors of society. Permanent Observer for the IOC to the UN 13 March

6 The power of sport is multiplied many times over when educators recognise the importance and the benefits of including physical activity in the school day; when governments recognise the importance and benefits of investing in parks and sports facilities; and when the private sector recognises the importance and benefits of promoting healthy lifestyles among employees. The IOC applauds the governments engagement towards the proposed Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It is indeed essential to ensure universal access to safe and inclusive green and public spaces, including sports and play areas, particularly for women and children, older people and people with disabilities. Funding for sport and physical activity is not a luxury expense; it is in investment that pays substantial returns. The return on investment comes in the form of lower health care costs, more productive workers, stronger economies, and happier, healthier and longer lives. As the leader of the Olympic Movement, the IOC has called on sports organisations worldwide to increase efforts to use sport as a tool for development and peace. The Sustainable Development Goals should send a similar message to the entire global development community. It is a very simple message: Sport can help. As we look towards the post-2015 Development Agenda, let us find ways to tap the full potential of sport to achieve our goals. As we seek to complete the unfinished agenda from the Beijing Platform for Action, let us work together to use sport to promote gender equality; empower women and girls; eliminate discrimination in education; foster selfesteem and leadership capacities; promote healthy lifestyles; combat NCDs; and prevent violence against women and girls. Working together and with other partners, we can achieve these goals. Sport can help. Thank you. ***************** Permanent Observer for the IOC to the UN 13 March

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