Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
Video Statement for Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, The Hague
Washington, DC
February 3, 2012

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I wish I could join you in person. I would like to thank the Netherlands Council of Women for organizing this Symposium, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science for hosting and making this event possible. I would also like to welcome all the distinguished guests today, including Kenza Robinson, Secretary of UN Water and former Chair of the UN Interagency Taskforce on Water and Gender; Marja van Bijsterveldt Minister for Education, Culture, and Science and Responsible Minister for Emancipation and Gender Equality; and Anke Vervoord, Executive Director of the Federation of Rural Women of the Netherlands.

I would also like to recognize the Board of the Netherlands Council of Women, including Board Chair Dieny Scheffer and each of the 48 Council chairpersons, as well as each and every one of you for your hard work and tireless dedication over the years in advancing women’s leadership around the world.

And, of course, I would like to recognize the Secretary General of the Netherlands Council of Women, Dr. Alice Bouman (Bow-man), for her leadership over many years in advancing women in sustainable development. As all of you know, Alice has been a long-time advocate for women’s empowerment, and particularly for the integration of gender and water issues. I have had the pleasure of working with Alice on several occasions, and have always appreciated the passion and insight that she brings to the table. She has helped catalyze important changes, and I know she will be missed.

Women have a critical leadership role to play in sustainable development, particularly in regards to access to clean water and sanitation. In much of the developing world, women spend several hours a day collecting, transporting, and managing water for domestic use, as well as promoting sanitation in their families and communities. As the primary agricultural producers in much of the developing world, women also use water resources to provide food for their families and communities.

Factors such as climate change and a rapidly growing global population pose a serious challenge to ensuring access to clean and reliable sources of water now and in the years to come. The decisions that are made today on water will continue to impact global food security, community health, and economic wellbeing. Women- as half the world’s population and leaders in water resource management- must be engaged in developing localized and global solutions to ensure clean water access for all. Unlocking the potential of women now will ensure that water resources are managed effectively into the future.

Of course, the critical leadership role of women in sustainability is not limited to water resource management. In the development of stronger, greener economies, it will be critical to bring women to the table on issues related to climate change, agriculture, clean energy, forests and so many other areas. I would like to note that it is particularly important that we reach out to engage rural women in these important conversations and in implementing solutions. Rural women, many of whom are local environmental stewards across the world, bring significant local knowledge and innovative solutions to the table.

In the coming months, we will have several opportunities to advance this agenda, from the annual meeting of the UN Commission of the Status of Women in New York in February, which this year will focus on rural women, to the Rio+20 conference in Brazil next June. The work that you are doing is so critical to informing and shaping the global agenda at these meetings, and ensuring that women’s role in protecting the environment is given the attention that it deserves.

I wish you all a very productive discussion today, and I look forward to learning the outcome, and to working with you and your government over the coming months to ensure that women’s issues are placed front and center, where they belong, at CSW and Rio+20.

Thank you, and good luck!