HE Tarja Halonen, former President of the Republic of Finland,
Keynote Speech on the theme ‘Being Well to Play Well’
7th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport
Your Excellencies, Dear friends,
It is a great honour for me to be at the 7th IWG World Conference on
Women and Sport here in Gaborone, Botswana. It is my first trip to this
beautiful country, and I have been keen to learn on Botswana’s story
towards (its) stability and prosperity.
The theme of women and sport continues to be vital. I am glad we can
carry on from the outcomes of the 6th IWG World Conference on
Women and Sport in 2014 in Helsinki, Finland, in which I had an honour
to serve as a patron.
International conventions, already for decades, have recognized equal
rights for women and men, but women and girls still face disadvantages
(and grievances) in their everyday lives. An important side of empowering
is prevention, and sport and play are an integral part of it. UN
organizations are also there to support the follow-up on CEDAW (the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women), Beijing conference, and ICPD (International Conference on
Population and Development), where the most challenging part is sexual
and reproductive health and rights.
The Millenniums Development Goals (MDGs) already included gender
mainstreaming and promotion of social justice, and they were a good
success. But now, with the Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) the
approach is broader and more encompassing. Every nation has the duty
and the right to implement sustainable development. But achieving the
Sustainable Development Goals requires not only efforts of governments
and international organisations. Parliaments, private sector, academia,
labour movement, civil society and the citizens are there to do their part.
Here today, we concentrate on the rights of women and girls. If we want
to build a better future for all, we need to make sure that women and girls
enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men and boys and need
to be able to live free of violence and discrimination. We must eliminate
harmful practices, [such as child, early and forced marriage and female
genital mutilation], and ensure universal access to sexual and
reproductive health and rights. Women’s participation and equal
opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making should be
guaranteed. For example, at the moment, we are working on these
themes in UN Secretary General’s Every Women Every Child Movement.
Women’s participation is not only a question of gender equality but also
of economic development and structures of the society. Gender equality
creates more sustainable and competitive societies. Decent work – all
around the world – is a key.
Sustainable Development Goal 5 creates good basis for moving from
the discussion of “why gender equality matters” to the discussion of “how
we make equality a reality”.
I now turn my focus on health and on its relation to human rights.
It is a universally accomplished fact that health is a core element in
people’s well-being and happiness, as well as a major goal of
governments, and a cornerstone of sustainable development. Gender
equality has an essential impact on health and wellbeing.
Far too many women worldwide still have little or no access to essential,
good-quality health services and education, clean air and water, adequate
sanitation and good nutrition. All people are entitled to dignity and
human rights regardless of sex, gender, age, ethnic background,
religion, sexual identity or any other factor. Still this includes their right to health, as signed onto by every country in the world. Many women suffer
illness and disability and fail to reach their full potential, resulting in
enormous loss and costs for countries both today and for future
I had the privilege as a Co-chair to be involved in preparing the report
”Leading the realization of human rights to health and through
health” together with the High-Level Working Group on the Health and
Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents. The group was
announced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). WHO’s and High
Commissioner’s actions are essential for supporting the implementation
of SDGs, similarly as the work of other UN institutions.
Our conclusion was that healthy women, children and adolescents whose
rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, are protected,
are at the very heart of sustainable development. Human rights cannot
be fully enjoyed without health. Only when health and human rights
walk hand in hand will women, children and adolescents be able to realize
the vision of the Global Strategy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development. We called on leaders to take up the challenge of translating
human rights to health and through health into a reality for all.
We all have the right to the highest possible standard of physical and
mental health, without discrimination. We have the right to receive good
quality health services and to the essentials for healthy life, including food,
water, sanitation, housing and a safe environment.
However, it is political will that is the key element so that these rights
can come true in national policy making and on political agendas. WHO’s
Health in All Policies is world-widely implemented approach that
systematically focuses on the role of health in all policy-making. This is
also across sectors, including sport and physical activity. It enhances
health together with other important societal goals such as gender equality
in health. Health-enhancing physical activity that meets the special
needs of women and girls should be included in all policies such as
sport, health, education and empowerment. Healthy lifestyle can be
promoted by cooperating with other sectors of society to address physical
inactivity. In addition, this should include other priority health issues that
women face, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, the
prevention of cancer and HIV/AIDS, and other impairments. I warmly
encourage you to advocate mainstreaming health and physical activity as
part of it.
We all want to be a bit lazy sometimes, but physical inactivity is a threat
to healthy lifestyle. Many women suffer from diseases such as
cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and osteoporosis, which are
associated with inadequate physical activity. Increasing health and
enhancing physical activity can significantly benefit the physical,
psychological and social wellbeing of girls and women throughout the
whole life span. It can be a challenge for women to maintain their physical
activity in all phases of their lives, such as puberty, motherhood,
menopause, old age or when combining work and family lives. For
instance, almost half of the girls worldwide face dropout from sports in the
age of puberty.
Lately, the scientists have underlined the importance of daily physical
activity in short terms. It is even better to walk only 3 minutes instead of
being totally inactive. I personally try to include walking into my daily
routines such as walking to my office.
Women can face obstacles on their way towards a healthier and
more active life. Women often have a higher workload at home and more
family-related responsibilities than men. And as women’s incomes are on
average lower than men’s, access to health services can be an issue. It is
important to support more gender equal structures for education, work,
and care, and to see that adequate resources, both human and financial,
are available. New policies are needed in order to create a strong
foundation for women and girls to lead healthy, active lives. And also, to
encourage them to participate, and to get their voices heard in sports.
I have had an opportunity to visit several countries in different
continents to learn about the latest developments in women’s rights.
In February, I had an opportunity to visit Lebanon and Jordan, and also
the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp. I was convinced that sports and play
are important, also in such difficult circumstances, for girls, as well as for boys.
Gender-based violence, sexual harassment and abuse exist in allspheres of the society, including sports. Online harassment, linked to
violence against women, is a new phenomenon that needs serious
attention, also in the field of sport. According to a recent UN report, 73
percent of women had reported experiencing online abuse. More than
two thirds of female victims of cyberstalking also experience at least one
form of physical, or sexual violence, from an intimate partner.
Sexual and reproductive rights are a substantial part of the human identity
and require specific awareness to be protected.
She decides and MeToo campaigns have brought the issue of sexual harassment and violence visible.
Sport organizations, such as International Olympic Committee (IOC) and
governmental organizations, both at international and national levels,
have adopted recommendations and published educational materials on
sexual harassment and violence. This has also been done with a special
focus on gender identity and sexual minorities. What is needed is action,
based on the recommendations. I have a feeling that time is appropriate
We need a zero tolerance towards all forms of violence. Safe spaces and
supportive environment are needed, free from harassment and
violence, so that women and girls can access physical activity. Sexual
harassment and violence against women in the sports world, in its all
forms, must be brought into daylight: they can no longer remain taboos.
Tackling all forms of sexual harassment and violence in sport is required.
This allows women and girls to be equally participating at all levels in
physical activity, as well as in coaching and decision-making in sport.
The IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) has recently
set new limits on testosterone levels for women and since then wide
discussion has taken place. I would like to remind that as the Olympic
Charter states, the practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must
have the possibility of practising sport. Any form of discrimination with
regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics,
gender or otherwise is incompatible. It would be important for sport
organizations to consider their decisions on the bases of human rights.
Sport is an important part but not everything in our life. We should
remember that our decisions in sports have influence also to other parts
The media not only creates news but builds world views. Media can
make women’s sport visible. There is still a huge difference in the media
coverage of women’s and men´s sport globally. Not only the quantity, but
also the quality is different. Often, female athletes are portrayed differently
than male athletes, both in images and in the languages used.
UNESCO calls for fairer media coverage of sportswomen. According to
their data and our own daily observations, only 4 per cent of sports media
content is dedicated to women’s sport and 12 per cent of sports news is
presented by women.
Increased visibility in media has an empowering effect on female athletes
and young girls, who hope to become professional athletes. But it also
affects everyone following sport. Making women’s sport more available
will increase interest in it. This in turn will hopefully be followed by
increased resources and sponsorships.
Finland celebrated 100 years of independence last year. Women’s
rights were promoted by a program called 100 acts for gender equality.
As a part of this program, the Finnish National Broadcasting Company Yle
launched a project to promote the amount and visibility of women´s sport
in its sport coverage. It has already, by now, had an impact on how
women’s sport is portrayed not only in Yle but also in other media.
[6th IWG Conference and its aims]
Some positive steps in sports have been reached. I especially
welcome the 25 recommendations of the International Olympic
Committee to foster gender equality and strengthen women’s participation
in and through sport. These recommendations support the aims of the
Brighton plus Helsinki Declaration and aim to create a roadmap to
advance gender equality within and beyond the Olympic movement.
One aspect, I specially want to underline, is that men and boys need to
be involved in promoting gender equality. We need their involvement and
support. It is important to allow boys and men to have new types of role
models and chances in life to pursue careers, lifestyles, and family roles,
which lead to greater sharing and equality in life. This contributes to
changing attitudes and social norms, leading us to the right direction, even
slowly, for the benefit of both women and men.
Many of us women have worked hard for gender equality, and we have
broken different barriers in our lives. (I also had my hindrances along
the way, being the first female union lawyer in Finland, and later on, the
first female foreign minister and president.) When breaking glass ceilings,
you will get scratches, especially if you are the first one. But what is
important is that other women will follow.
I’ve been often interviewed about how to break a glass ceiling. I have
answered: once is not enough. For me, gender equality is not a still photo:
the process creates new goals, and continuous work is necessary.
Here, I would like to mention that wider discussion on these topics will
take place at the side event called From Helsinki to Gaborone:
Leadership, Coaching and Visibility, on Friday at 4 pm. Please be
warmly welcome to join us to this session tomorrow!
This 7th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport gives us an
opportunity to learn and discuss the latest developments in the area of
women and sport. I encourage you to actively contribute to these
discussions and bring home from Gaborone new ideas and lot of energy
to lead the change.
Let’s make this a reality! We are stronger together!