Quite frankly, every day should be women’s day. And for that to happen, we have more work to do, more barriers to break, more glass ceilings to shatter. So, I take today as a chance to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and girls throughout history and around the world. Oftentimes their achievements and milestone performances and contributions were accomplished against great odds and all too often they remaining invisible.
Women and girls worldwide are leaders and role models for a better world. In our IOGT movement alone, I have the pleasure and honor of meeting so many of them.
I’m in New York right now, because celebrating International Women’s Day – no matter how important it is – is really not enough. I’m in New York now to participate in the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60). I’m here at the United Nations, representing the members of IOGT, being both hopeful and concerned.
We are hopeful because we’ve seen much progress and great achievements in gender equality and women empowerment. We are concerned because we encounter major obstacles to the health and well being of women and girls that threaten to erode the achievements made.
At CSW60, my task is clear: to empower and inspire decision-makers to start using a powerful but under-utilized tool in our joint efforts to advance Women’s Rights: Alcohol policy measures, especially the three best buys.
Dear Chair, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen
This year, IOGT International celebrates its 165th anniversary. In our 165-year long history of service in communities around the world, gender equality and women empowerment have always been a crucial focus for us. It’s this perspective and understanding that makes us both hopeful and concerned. We are hopeful because we’ve seen considerable progress and vast achievements in gender equality and women empowerment. We are concerned because we also face major challenges not only to the advances made but to the health and well being of women and girls in general.
Last September, world leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The Agenda2030 is a remarkable achievement. It holds tremendous potential for sustainable and transformative change. But there, too, are massive obstacles. Alcohol harm is a cross-cutting obstacle for achieving the SGDs, as it negatively impacts 12 out of 17 goals, including SDG5.
Going forward, it is therefore of utmost importance for the global community to address alcohol harm with the evidence-based, high-impact and cost-effective measures that we do have at our disposal. The world faces three major challenges for achieving gender equality and women empowerment. We refer to three global epidemics: Non-communicable diseases, HIV/ Aids, and Gender-based violence.
These three global epidemics are disproportionately burdening women and girls, especially women in low- and middle-income countries and they have one common risk factor: alcohol use.
Alcohol is one of four major risk factors in the global epidemic that are non-communicable diseases. NCDs are the leading cause of death globally. A staggering 35 million people die every year from NCDs, of which 18 million are women. NCDs represent the biggest threat to women’s health worldwide, increasingly burdening women from developing countries in their most productive years
Secondly, alcohol is also a risk factor in the global epidemic of gender-based violence. Every third woman is subjected to violence at least once during her lifetime. In some parts of the world gender-based violence can be related to alcohol in up to 80% of the cases. And alcohol marketing plays a role in perpetuating prejudices and stereotypes of women; alcohol marketing often depicts women in de-humanized, sexualized and objectified ways. Alcohol marketing fuels gender-based violence and erodes women empowerment.
And thirdly, alcohol is a risk factor for HIV/ Aids because it increases the likelihood to engage in risky sexual behavior – like unprotected sex, frequent change of partners or violent sex. Alcohol weakens the immune system making it more susceptible for the HI-Virus and it makes adhesion to medication for people who are HIV-positive more difficult. In many aspects of the HIV/ Aids epidemic, women are disproportionately burdened.
It is with this on mind that we urgently encourage and support the world’s governments to apply the tools of high-impact and cost-effective alcohol policy in our joint efforts for women empowerment. Alcohol policy measures, such as the Three Best Buys of alcohol policy as described by World Bank, World Health Organization and World Economic Forum (among others), are crucial tools for the achievement of the potential of the Agenda2030 in general and SDG5 in particular – including 4 of the targets under SDG5.
Alcohol policy measures can help bring about transformative change for women and girls, in helping to end all forms of discrimination, to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence, to ensure women’s full participation in public life, strengthening sound policies comprehensively promoting gender equality and women empowerment.
We have the evidence. We have the political tools. We have societal momentum. Now we need political will and leadership.