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Active engagement of men is necessary to achieve gender equality

Opening statement by Ambassador Andrej Benedejčič, Permanent Representative of Slovenia, at the special event "Men as Champions of Gender Equality" to mark the International Women's Day, Vienna, 7 March 2019

Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the moderator of today's event I would like to welcome you all to this special celebration of the International Women's Day 2019.  Let me emphasize that this is a joint initiative of the Gender Focal Points and Focal Points for Women of the International Atomic Energy Agency, of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, of the United Nations Office in Vienna and of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  The aim of this get-together is to discuss the role of men as champions of gender equality. 

This also explains why I am moderating the event.  Two years ago I was approached to join the organizing committee to launch the International Gender Champions initiative here in Vienna.  And the reason why I was contacted is because of my role as the Chairperson of the OSCE MenEngage Network.  This network was established at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2012 with a view to enlist the support of men in promoting gender equality, especially in the politico-military dimension. 

In that sense it is fair to ask also here, at the Vienna International Center, what is the role of men in promoting women's rights?  The question is all the more appropriate since all the Vienna-based organizations have much in common, dealing as they are with science and security related issues, which are still regarded as traditionally male domains.  It therefore makes sense to compare notes and learn from each other's experiences.

Experience shows that many people still assume that gender issues are synonymous with women's issues and are best left for women and girls to deal with on their own.  On the other hand, men are too often portrayed negatively during gender talks.  They are commonly seen as the problem and are mostly talked about as perpetrators of violence.  While it is important to continue to fight men's violence against women, it is equally important to recognize the crucial role they can play as fathers, decision-makers or community leaders, in speaking out against gender inequality and ensuring that priority attention is given to women's rights. Gender equality cannot be fully achieved without the involvement of men. They can be important allies and agents of meaningful and mutually beneficial change.  

It is also for this reason that the launch in June 2017 of the International Gender Champions initiative at the VIC represents an important milestone.  This leadership network already includes several dozen Permanent Representatives and all the heads of the Vienna-based international organizations.  The establishment last year of the IGC Steering Group ensures the necessary institutional framework for continuous promotion of gender mainstreaming and equal opportunities in the future.  In 2019, for instance, the International Gender Champions Vienna Hub is planning to start the process of engaging Gender Champions to launch Impact Groups.  These are aimed at further expanding knowledge about the importance of gender issues and at promoting practical actions to bring gender perspectives into the activities of international organizations in Vienna.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that in Slovenia we believe that gender equality is not a zero-sum game, but a win-win proposition.  Our own experience has shown that increasing the number of women in crisis-management processes and peacekeeping missions leads to better quality of brokerage and mediation.  We have also seen that women's participation and leadership not only augments public and political life but also improves it.  Practice has also shown that by championing causes such as equal fatherhood in family life and work-life balance men can actually benefit from equal opportunities for women. Advancing gender equality is therefore both the right thing and the smart thing to do. 

Thank you.