Mme Ambassador, distinguished quests,
I have the pleasure to wish you all warmly welcome to join the 14th International Helvi Sipilä Seminar.
The theme today is My Body is Mine – How free contraception is linked to empowerment and education.
In Finland we have a strong women’s movement and a close cooperation with politicians, as well as with the ministries in charge in order to promote women’s rights and gender equality.
This seminar is organized together by the Finnish Federation of Graduate Women, the National Council of Women, the Coalition of Finnish Women’s Associations, Finland National Committee for UN Women and the Young Women’s Christian Association of Finland.
My name is Terhi Heinilä and I represent the National Council of Women.
I have the pleasure to thank the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, as well as the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN for the excellent cooperation and the opportunity to gather here in these premises with such a beautiful view over New York.
We certainly have experienced a backlash of gender equality in the past few years. According to the UN Women it will take 270 years in order to reach gender equality! We wouldn’t like to wait that long.
One of the key topics in women’s rights is sexual and reproductive health and rights. There are 214 million women globally who would like to use safe and effective contraception, if it would be possible. Lack of knowledge, no contraception is available or the costs are too high are often reasons.
Women’s movement globally is shocked of the latest developments in this area. MITEN SANOTTAISIIN?
President Trump has stated that women should be punished for abortion. He also has proposed a change to the famous Title X (which is withholding money from any facility or program that promotes abortion or refers patients to a caregiver that will provide one). He ordered the “global gag rule”, which denies funding from any international NGO that provides abortions services or even discusses abortion with patients seeking educational materials or referrals. This affects not only sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls globally but also their treatment of diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.
Conservative values have risen also in Europe. For example, Agenda Europe movement wants to restore the Natural Order in Europe and seeks to overturn existing laws on basic human rights related to sexuality and reproduction such as rights for abortion, sexual minorities and divorce. It is estimated that there are 500 similar interest groups in Europe.
Women’s right to decide over their own body is a basic human right. If we don’t have that power, then what can we decide?
As a protest to the backlash millions of women have marched around the world. Only in the US in one year 5 million people participated in these rallies.
This session is our march today, to meet you and bring the issue which is important for all of us to the common discussion.
Helvi Sipilä was a Finnish lawyer, diplomat and the first female Assistant Secretary-General of the UN. And especially she was known as respected advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.
I didn’t know her personally but I had a chance to meet her a few times. One of these occasions I remember especially well. It was year 2000 and we, the Finnish women organized the European Women and Sport Conference and a preparatory high-level meeting in which both Assistant Secretary-General Helvi Sipilä and President Tarja Halonen participated.
President Halonen had just been elected as the first female President of the Republic. She couldn’t speak as she had lost her voice after the campaigning and celebrations. And Helvi’s health was in a poor state and she was walking quite slowly. Still those two women had so much strength and courage and such a powerful voice which we will never forget.
I’m sure that Helvi Sipilä would have loved to join us today to discuss the theme My body is mine. We feel privileged to have the opportunity to continue her valuable legacy, the legacy of global women.