U.N. Secretary-General Urges University Leaders To Prioritize Women’s Empowerment

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday spoke about the role universities can play in empowering women worldwide during an address to students and academic leaders gathered in Philadelphia for the fifth Global Colloquium of University Presidents, the Associated Press reports (Matheson, 4/4).

The Colloquium represents “a select group of 29 university presidents from around the world” who convene annually “to discuss a topic of immediate concern to the secretary-general,” the Penn Current reports (3/31).

“Women’s rights have come a long way in the past century – through determined advocacy, practical action, and enlightened policy making,” Ban said, describing the recent involvement of women in the revolutions in the Middle East and Africa, according to a transcript of his address. “But, in too many countries and too many societies, women are still second-class citizens, denied fundamental rights, deprived of legitimate opportunity,” he said, adding, “Inequality and discrimination do not only occur in someone else’s country or culture. … Women and girls experience them everywhere. … It is our job to change that,” Ban said, according to the transcript (4/4).

Universities “can provide the training in critical thinking that a functional democracy needs … They provide a foundation for the economic and medical research that is so essential to society’s well-being. And they supply graduates to the workforce,” Ban said, according to U.N. News Centre. “So it is essential that this issue of women’s rights and women’s representation is reflected in your curricula, your appointments, your practices and your partnerships,” he added (4/4).

Additionally, institutions have the opportunity to “help developing countries build ‘the bridge from information to policy,'” AP continues. “Many nations don’t have reliable statistics on the economic impact of women in the workplace, their roles in health and education, or even women’s share of the poverty burden, he said,” according to the news service (4/4).

During his speech, Ban highlighted the U.N.’s role in advancing the rights of women worldwide, including the formation of U.N. Women, Ban’s UNiTE to End Violence Against Women and his decision to “increas[e] the number of women in senior leadership posts by more than 40 percent.”

Ban also urged the gathering to back the U.N.’s $40 billion plan to improve the health of women and children over the next five years, and spoke of the connection between women’s health and gender equality, according to the transcript (4/4). 

On Tuesday, U.N. Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet will address the colloquium, where she is expected to discuss possible collaborations between institutions and U.N. Women (3/31).

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