27 September 2022 Keynote speech by Development Minister Svenja Schulze at the opening of the conference “Feminist Development Policy – Transforming International Cooperation”

Federal Minister Svenja Schulze during her speech at the conference "Feminist Development Policy – Transforming International Cooperation" on 27 September 2022

Federal Minister Svenja Schulze during her speech at the conference “Feminist Development Policy – Transforming International Cooperation” on 27 September 2022 in Berlin

Federal Minister Svenja Schulze during her speech at the conference Feminist Development Policy – Transforming International Cooperation on 27 September 2022 in Berlin

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Distinguished guests,
Ms. Regnér,
Distinguished panelists,
Esteemed participants,

When I visited Bolivia and Colombia a few weeks ago, I met many people, saw many projects and had many talks. I was greatly impressed by some of the things I saw and heard, and they have stayed on my mind. One of them is the story of Eulalia Luango, one of the madres buscadoras (the “searching mothers”) in Colombia who spent decades looking for their kidnapped relatives. She told me about the violence and threats which she experienced at the hands of the authorities and the military, who were trying to quiet her. In spite of that, she became active and has remained an activist to this day. Eulalia Luango is one example of the many strong women in the world who stand up against violence against women. And our cooperation with Colombia is one example of a feminist development policy. By empowering these women and helping to find the victims, we are contributing to reconciliation within society. But this is not enough.

I am deeply impressed by the way in which women fight for their rights even in the most difficult circumstances. And this shows that, if you want to help countries to move forward on the basis of partnership, you can only be successful by engaging with all population groups. Countless studies have shown that hunger and poverty go down and stability increases if women have equal responsibility.

So, for me, this is a very special conference today. At the beginning of this year, I announced in the German Parliament that feminist development policy would become one of the hallmarks of the Development Ministry. Today, we are meeting in a large group for the first time: partners from all over the world, international and civil society organizations. We will have a discussion about feminist development policy, exchange ideas, and become active. I am delighted that so many of you have come.

My announcement that we would be pursuing a feminist development policy has triggered quite a range of different responses in Germany, covering everything from enthusiasm to skepticism all the way to hostility. For a feminist, this does not come as a surprise.

And yet feminism is not a new invention. Feminist movements emerged and grew over centuries across continents, developing incredible energy,

  • for example the women's movement in Chile which stood up against the economic exploitation of women in the 19th century.
  • Another example is the indigenous women of Sierra Leone, who successfully fought for voting rights back at the end of the 18th century – and they lost them again when their homeland became a British colony.

And today, there are many women all over the world who are working to eliminate inequalities, for example the women in the MENA region who are calling for the equal participation of women in peace processes in the region's crisis countries. We will be hearing more about their impressive work later. Another example is the international movement for climate justice, which looks at the impacts of the climate crisis on women and, for example, indigenous groups.

In the last few days in particular, our attention has once again focused on Iran – on the courageous protests of strong women. With self-confidence, they are calling the system into question through their demonstrations. We stand with them in solidarity as they fight for self-determination.

Feminism is an ongoing project. Every age needs its own answers – and this is true for feminism, too. In the 21st century, we are faced with a very broad range of gender equality issues – some very elementary, such as female genital mutilation; some more subtle, for example the implementation of existing rights, and issues surrounding access to education.

I want to advance feminism at all levels. And I thank you for being here with us today and joining forces with me.

Feminism is a conviction. And equality is a human right. The purpose of feminist development policy is a society of the free and the equal – a society in which all people enjoy equal participation in social, political and economic life and are able to exercise their human rights. So this is far more than a “policy by women for women.” It is about equal opportunities and justice. And this benefits everyone – including men.

To that end, we want to question existing power structures and discriminatory norms and role models, and help to overcome them. This includes critically questioning our own structures and recognizing where misogyny, continuing colonialism and racist ways of thinking have become entrenched. It is up to us to change structures, to strengthen those voices that have not received sufficient attention so far, and to widen our gaze by taking up those perspectives that we have not considered sufficiently.

The challenges are huge. To this day, there is no single country where people enjoy full equality and equal rights.

On the contrary – in the majority of all countries, women do not enjoy the same rights as men. Women perform about two-thirds of all unpaid care and household work. But the feminist approach goes beyond gender inequality. It looks at inequality in general. For example, youth, people with disabilities, indigenous people and many other groups often enjoy inadequate participation in decision-making processes. Discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race and other factors is widespread.

All of this is deeply unfair and prevents people from taking control of their lives and living in freedom. And that is exactly why we need to tackle it!

Moreover, there is empirical evidence which shows that such inequality comes at a high price. It diminishes economic performance, it reduces stability, and it often leads to violence and armed conflict. A feminist development policy that works toward gender equality helps to make entire societies more resilient, stable, peaceful, and prosperous.

Results are better whenever women enjoy equal participation and representation. Yet we are still faced with major challenges that require comprehensive answers. We want to develop such answers together.

I use what is called an intersectional approach – it addresses the interlinkages and interdependencies of discrimination.

For this feminist development policy – which looks at all inequalities as a matter of principle –, I have established specific targets. In the future, the German Development Ministry will be orienting its work systematically toward gender equality. Women and girls are the world's largest population group – and yet they are still marginalized. By 2025, we will gradually increase the share of bilateral Development Ministry funding that contributes to gender equality as a principal or significant objective – from its current level of about 60 per cent to a level of 93 per cent. As part of that increase, we will double the share of projects that pursue gender equality as their principal objective.

This is an ambitious goal and requires all our partners to be on board – civil society, the political foundations, and faith-based organizations.

Many of you have been working for more gender equality for many years. I look forward to making headway on this together with you. We will take very targeted action to address the patriarchal power structures and discriminatory role models that prevent women from enjoying equal participation: We will be speaking with male decision-makers and with proponents of values who are able to influence social norms. We will raise awareness of the fact that society as a whole benefits if political decisions are not just taken by men and for men, and if the structural causes of discrimination are finally tackled.The fact is that women are strong actors – so they are anything but just the victims of discrimination. They have knowledge which should be used for the benefit of all of society. They are also agents of change, for example when it comes to adaptation to climate change. They are the ones who plant the fields. They know which plants are best able to resist drought and heat. They know how intercropping can preserve soil fertility. And in situations of displacement, it is often the women who have to provide for and protect their families. Economically and socially empowered women benefit their entire families – through more education, better nutrition, and better health.

Speaking of health: bodily self-determination is a fundamental right, and nearly half of all women in the world are still denied that right. In order to realize this, we do not even have to look very far. We just need to take a look at our German debate on whether it is a criminal offense to provide information about abortion. It took us decades to fight for doctors' right to provide public information about the option of having an abortion – without facing punishment all the way to prison sentences. It was only the current government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz which finally abolished this provision, known in Germany as “Section 219a” (of our Penal Code).

Bodily self-determination is vital to women's and girls' individual wellbeing and health. It also improves their chances of completing school and taking up employment. They become more likely to generate their own income and provide for their entire family. And this improves their prospect of enjoying social participation and representation – so that She Decides.

This is the name of a movement which is working internationally to foster women's and girls' sexual and reproductive rights.

I am proud to be part of this movement – as a SheDecides champion, a role in which I will be working with other champions to advocate the rights of women and girls. One of these champions is Alvaro Bermejo, who is here with us today.

A feminist policy is characterized by international cooperation and broad and strong alliances. UN Women in particular is a key partner for this. We have close cooperation – on the recognition and redistribution of unpaid care work; on the rights and protection of women migrants; on fighting and preventing violence against women; and on making women and girls part of the decision-making in peace processes and conflict situations. This specifically includes the MENA region, where we have close cooperation on this with UN Women. This year, Germany will be providing 32 million euros to UN Women, including 18 million in core contributions, for this important work. This is the highest amount which the German Development Ministry has ever committed to UN Women in a single year.

The MENA region is an example of how efforts based on feminist approaches for more gender equality can work in crisis and conflict contexts. The equal participation of women and, generally, the inclusive design of peace processes are vital factors for ensuring the sustainable implementation of peace agreements. I am convinced that one key element for the development of the MENA region is stronger participation by women and girls – in peace processes and beyond them.

The Development Ministry therefore suggested a European initiative that will create jobs for women and young people in the MENA region. The European Commission, Italy, Spain and Germany are planning to provide 2.8 billion euros for this, in order to give more women a chance to find formal employment. At present, only one in five women in the MENA region has a job. This is a huge loss for these countries' economies. In order to increase labor force participation rates, the BMZ is working through the regional WoMENA project to establish women's networks and better careers advice for women. I look forward with great interest to our Panel II, which will deal with the MENA region and will give us all a chance to learn from the experience and knowledge of that region.

Distinguished guests,

A feminist development policy is necessary, and it is the right way to go. This will take more than words and good intentions. The Development Ministry is already working hard on practical ways of implementing this policy. Today's event is an important milestone on the way to our new strategy on feminist development policy. That document will guide our strategic implementation efforts. Your input has been a key element for that strategy.

I want to give shape to a feminist development policy together with you, and strengthen women's and girls' rights, representation and resources.

This will take determination, convincing arguments and the readiness to stand up against discrimination and its structural causes – time and again.

I am sure that you here in this room, and also those participating online, have this determination, and also the courage which it takes.

I look forward to inspiring discussions, and I wish you and us all a lively exchange of ideas.