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27/07/15 00:01

Women's rights in China

First Minister makes keynote speech on gender equality in Beijing.

Equal rights for women is the key to sustainable economic growth for Scotland and China, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said in a major address in Beijing.

Ms Sturgeon said not only was gender equality a fundamental issue of human rights, it was one of the great economic opportunities of the century during her remarks to an audience of senior women in government, academia and business at the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

The First Minister’s remarks came as we approach the 20 year anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, at which then First Lady Hillary Clinton delivered her iconic “women’s rights are human rights” address.

During her speech today, the First Minister echoed that language, adding "Because just as women’s rights are human rights – the great message sent out from Beijing 20 years ago - so women’s innovations are human innovations; women’s wealth-creation is human wealth-creation; women’s prosperity is human prosperity."

She also added that all countries need to learn from each other to achieve true gender equality.

The First Minister said:

“It’s 20 years this year since Beijing hosted the fourth world conference on women. That conference famously included the affirmation that human rights are women’s rights, and that women's rights are human rights. Around the world, the Beijing Platform for Action rallied governments and international organisations to do more to promote gender equality.

“There are currently well over 2 billion working age women across the world. But there is virtually no country, on any continent, where women have equal economic opportunities to men.

“For virtually every nation, fully empowering women is probably the single simplest way, in which they can sustainably increase their productive potential. Gender equality can help to transform the global economy.

The First Minister continued:

“I know that much of the work we do in Scotland will strike a chord here in China. Gender equality is incorporated in your constitution. Women account for 45 per cent of your workforce. And you recognise the importance of women being fully involved in decision-making.

“But like all societies - certainly including Scotland - there is also more that China can do. To give just one example, women are still significantly under-represented among key decision-makers in business and in government. The truth is, that virtually all countries are on a journey towards true gender equality, but none have completely achieved it. We all need to learn from each other how best to make progress.

“20 years ago, the 4th women’s summit in Beijing was an immensely important part of that dialogue, that learning process. So it is appropriate that in September China is marking the 20th anniversary of the summit, by co-hosting -with the United Nations - the Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.”

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International's Programme Director in Scotland, said:

"The First Minister has made a significant statement of support for equality and human rights in Beijing, and we trust that she will continue a dialogue on these issues throughout her time in China."

The First Minister added:

“Women’s rights aren’t something that can primarily be considered and taken account of by men – women and men should have an equal opportunity to lead and take decisions. That’s a basic right which should be recognised by communities, companies and governments all around the world.

"And just as everyone benefits from gender equality, so everyone should help to promote it. This isn’t just a job for government, and it’s certainly not just a job for women. Everyone can play a part in making it clear that violence against women is unacceptable; everyone can refuse to perpetuate prejudice and discrimination. And everyone can help to combat gender stereotyping – whether at work, at school or in the home.

“I began this speech by referring to the Chinese saying – “Women hold up half the sky”. However women shouldn’t just be supporting the sky – we should be reaching for it. We need to ensure that young girls and women today feel confident that if they have the ability, and they work hard enough, there are no limits to what they can achieve.

“In the 20 years since the last Beijing summit, the world has seen extraordinary change. When you think about the progress made by China, or if you consider the communications revolution that has transformed so much of what we do, you’re reminded that there are virtually no limits to human ingenuity.

"And it seems paradoxical that we don’t always show the same ingenuity – or at least, the right level of resolve – when it comes to using the greatest resource we have as a society; the potential of all of our people. For all the progress we’ve seen in the last two decades, virtually no country enables women to participate absolutely equally in the workplace.

“It’s why gender equality – as well as being a fundamental issue of human rights – is also one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century.

“By achieving it, we will enable individuals to flourish, families to prosper and our economies to grow. We will help to secure a wealthier, fairer, more sustainable future. And that will bring great benefits for Scotland, for China, for all of us.”

Notes to editors

The First Minister’s speech will be available in full here –

The First Minister is in China and Hong Kong this week to promote Scottish innovation with one of the world’s largest economies as part of a trade visit.

During the visit, the First Minister will undertake a series of high profile business engagements to promote Scottish business in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, including hosting an ‘innovation showcase’ for Scottish companies to meet with Chinese investors, as well as undertaking a series of cultural and educational engagements.