Remarks Type: Remarks as Prepared
Speaker: Amy Logan, President of the US National Committee for UN Women San Francisco Bay Area and World Learning Global Advisory Council Member
Speech Date: October 17, 2016
Speech Location: San Francisco, CA

Good morning. It is such an honor to be here today. I want to thank some special people for having me here: First Lady Anita Lee, Andrea Shorter (Pres, COSW), Emily Murase (ED DOSW) and the Commission and Department on the Status of Women, Marjan Philhour (Pres of FCOSW), Verna Liza Caba (ED of FCOSW), and the Friends of COSW. Also Charlie Campbell and Karen McMillan. Thank you.

As a little girl, it was never my aspiration to become a women’s human rights defender. I grew up in Austin and Dallas with loving, progressive parents and relative privilege. I was an empathic young person with a big heart who woke up just about every day with optimism and excitement. I saw the world as a place of opportunity.

But in my twenties, living on the East Coast, I became a survivor of gender-based violence — twice. I found myself at the major turning point in my life: do I surrender and let these events take me down? Or do I somehow find a way past them? I made a decision to believe in the overwhelming good of humanity and set forth on a healing journey that became much bigger than just me.

While I was trying to figure out how to leave my abusive husband with whom I owned a company, I was brought over to Israel with a group of journalists – I was also a syndicated columnist at the time. On that trip, I first learned about “honor killing” – the murder of a female typically by a male family member for a range of disobedient behavior or even for being raped. Some traditional families from the Middle East, N. Africa and S Asia, including in Israel, practice this to save the family’s honor in the community when there’s been a perceived transgression. I learned that women in abusive marriages often couldn’t escape because if they did, their families of origin might then murder them out of shame. When I heard that, I realized however tough it was for me to leave, I could leave. The millions of women I didn’t even know who were suffering this fate gave me the instant courage to bail out and save my own life. So I did.

But I could never forget them. I devoted the next 20 years to trying to do something about honor killing. To get to the bottom of this intractable tradition, I researched the origins of the practice but couldn’t find any real answers – just a lot of doors slammed in my face for discussing a taboo topic. That just galvanized me more and I spent a decade developing an original theory of how honor killing got started. I published it in a literary suspense novel in 2012 entitled The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice. A more sensible person might’ve written a dissertation and gotten a PhD out of it, but a story is what came out of me. This process was my healing and my rebirth.

After spending thousands of hours at my computer alone in a room, suddenly I was being asked to speak publicly about my research and book. Remembering the women who inspired me initially, I gathered my courage to share my work at conferences as far away as Turkey. I did a TED talk two years ago and then was interviewed for a documentary called “The Price of Honor”, which I also helped produce. It was about a case of honor killing near my hometown of Dallas from 2008, whose perpetrator, Yaser Said, remains at large. He murdered his two beautiful teenage daughters, Amina and Sarah Said. I organized a screening of the film and panel discussion in the US Capitol in 2015 with congresswomen Donna Edwards, Carolyn Maloney, and Jan Schakowsky and convinced the Justice Department to release their first-ever study on honor violence in the US at the event. This was all done in support of passing CEDAW legislation.

I could hardly believe such people were so interested in this topic – when I started out, no one even knew what honor killing was. Now about half do. A lot more work needs to be done on this issue all over the world, including in the US, and the progress is slow. We had a big win just last week when Pakistan, which has about 1000 honor killings a year — finally changed their law to require a killer to face a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for honor killing. If they enforce it, it could be transformational.

This has all been very fulfilling to me and was way above and beyond anything I ever envisioned. I started out really just wanting some answers about violence for myself.

But last year, around the time I was elected President of the US National Committee for UN Women San Francisco Bay Area, my interest began to shift and broaden to look at ways to prevent and mitigate violence, discrimination and exploitation of women, in any form that it shows up in, not just honor violence.

In September 2015, the UN set 17 new targets for the next 15 years called the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, and gender equality is number 5. For the first time in history, governments have set a concrete deadline for the elimination of gender inequality—the year 2030. How great is that? But most of the other 16 goals that we need to reach can’t be achieved either without the full participation of women and girls.

These are not just goals for developing countries – these are for all nations under the UN, including us in the USA. No nation has achieved gender equality yet so we all have work to do.

At the UN’s 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women this year, I heard the Asst Secretary General of UN Women Lakshmi Puri say that in order to achieve the SDGs, gender partnership must be mainstreamed and integrated into all organizations, and we need to mobilize everyone, men and women, girls and boys. Gender equality is no longer just a so-called women’s issue or a human rights issue. It is now considered by our largest international body – the UN — the cornerstone of progress for any society in our world. It belongs to ALL of us.

Learning this got me so excited! It isn’t just UN Women tasked with this issue anymore; now it’s an imperative and priority for the whole UN! I began to pay close attention when I noticed that in many places, and in many cases of violence, discrimination or exploitation against women, their level of economic empowerment usually had a huge impact on their situation. Owning and having control over land and property, having a job or their own business, having and controlling their own bank account, being educated – and the quality of all of these factors – makes a tremendous difference for a woman’s safety and opportunity. I was able to leave a dangerous relationship partly because I had my own money, property and marketable skills – a safety net. So many women around the world do not.

So I was thrilled that in January of this year, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched a High-Level Panel on WEE — it’s clear that this needs to be at the top of the global agenda to accelerate progress for the SDGs. The Panel’s process aims to promote women’s leadership in driving economic growth, and galvanizing commitment by governments, the private sector, the UN system and other stakeholders.

One of the most wonderful aspects of advancing women’s economic empowerment is that it creates a positive feedback loop: Often, the more economically empowered a woman is, the more she can buffer herself from violence, exploitation and discrimination; and the more she can buffer herself from those problems, the more she can achieve economically.

It’s also both fair and practical: Gender equality and women’s economic empowerment can generate huge gains for human development, economic growth, business and innovation. Men and boys, families, communities and nations all benefit when a woman improves financially. Research shows that women invest their income back into their families and communities, including in health and education. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that if women in every country were to play an identical role to men in markets, as much as $28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025.

Countries that empower women economically are less likely to traffic in drugs, people and weapons; less likely to send off refugees across borders and oceans; less likely to harbor terrorists or pirates; incubate and transmit pandemic diseases; and they’re less likely to require foreign military like US troops on the ground. We have a national security interest in promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment — both on our own soil and internationally.

So, to help women achieve their potential is an investment in ALL of our futures. And quickly becoming an imperative for our survival.

Women’s economic empowerment is an enormous issue with many facets that I am still enthusiastically learning about and I encourage you to do the same because I believe this is the key to our progress.

The first report by the High-Level Panel has just come out – Leave No One Behind – which you can find online — and given the complexity of the barriers to women’s economic empowerment, they have initially focused on only one aspect of it – the world of work. I’m just going to give you a taste of it.

Globally, women undertake three times more unpaid work than men and spend half as much time in paid work. Women work more hours than men but receive less pay.

The UN recommends seven strategies to unlock the potential of women to fully participate in the economy and achieve financial independence – which are as relevant in Islamabad as they are in San Francisco. They include

  1. Breaking stereotypes: Tackling adverse social norms and promoting positive role models. We at the USNC-UN Women SF put on an event this past year to recognize positive male role models in the Bay Area– the HeForShe Champions for Change Celebration. On a daily basis, we can acknowledge both men and women who demonstrate the values we want more of – and speaking out when we see issues.
  2. Leveling the playing field for women: Ensuring legal protections and reforming discriminatory laws and regulations. Enforcing CEDAW and international labor standards are critical. By removing legal barriers, governments send a message on how important gender equality is. San Francisco is a world leader in this respect and your supporting the COSW’s work is crucial to continued development.
  3. Investing in care: Recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid work and care. This is about closing the gender gap in unpaid work, both in homes and institutions, and investing in quality care services and decent care jobs. Changing the gender division of labor will be challenging but studies show many men want to be more involved with their kids.
  4. Ensuring a fair share of assets: digital, financial and property. Access to such assets matter to women’s opportunities. Some wonderful partnerships are springing up to close these gender gaps, including Mozilla’s working with Silicon Valley companies to improve women’s global digital inclusion.
  5. Businesses creating opportunities: Changing business culture and practice. Companies are starting to realize the business value of empowering women – enabling them to reach their full potential at all levels of the value chain – as leaders, employees, suppliers, distributors, customers and community members. Employee engagement and retention go up, performance, revenue and innovation go up. Several excellent public-private partnerships are advancing opportunities for women globally in this area. I am currently launching a consulting and training firm called Gender Innovation to help organizations integrate gender equality and gender partnership into their cultures and systems. You can help change the business culture you’re in just by changing your own behavior — speaking up, mentoring, recruiting, developing, supporting and promoting women, cultivating male allies, hosting workshops on the issue.
  6. Governments creating opportunities: Improving public sector practices in employment and procurement. Government can promote female entrepreneurship by giving contracts to woman-owned enterprises. They can also hire and promote more women within.
  7. Enhancing women’s voices: Strengthening visibility, collective voice and representation. Women need to lead these processes themselves to ensure they are heard and get their needs met in collective bargaining.

These are the broad recommendations in summary from the UN’s High-Level Panel on women’s economic empowerment. I’m excited about what the future will bring now that this topic has been brought to the top of the heap – and I hope the brand-new UN Secretary General will be as much of a gender equality champion as Ban Ki-Moon was.

With my board at USNC-UN Women and our advisor and UN Women spokesperson Richard Lui, anchor at MSNBC and NBC News, I am in the process of organizing a women’s economic empowerment panel discussion in the Bay Area for this spring. We are hoping to entice Ban Ki-moon to keynote and include some other big names. I hope to see you there – if you want to be notified when we have details, stop by our table afterwards.

In conclusion, San Francisco is a world leader in gender equality and female empowerment but we cannot rest on our laurels. There is still much work to be done. We must continue to fund, educate, empower, monitor, evaluate and enforce the CEDAW ordinance. We must insist on our human rights – all humans, all rights. Please continue to support COSW and other worthy organizations that advance women’s empowerment. I urge everyone to do one meaningful deed a week in support of an organization of your choice that shares this mission. Giving back to this mission gave me my life back – and then some. Thank you.