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Let me start by apologizing for the unforeseen delay with which I have entered the meeting. I have been briefed on the interesting remarks previously delivered and I have been following with great attention the last interventions. As we heard, many are the inspiring ideas that have been floated. I invite you to elaborate further during the interactive discussion that will follow.

In particular, I appreciated the focus on the so-called “grasstop-grassroots” strategy to empower women and to expand their capacities. Simply put, as it was said today, it is a policy which, from its conception, takes into account the reality of women, and is founded on programmes that aim to eradicate discrimination and remove barriers through local Authorities. This brings us to stress the importance of “national ownership” and inclusiveness: two principles to which Italy is deeply committed, especially when applying them to strategies to empower women and effectively use the tools for cooperation that would allow women to have access to land and credit.

In this regard, food security and nutrition are, without question, among the biggest of these challenges. They need a global response to reverse the trends of mass poverty, unequal globalization and environmental unsustainability. 

I am also glad to recall Expo 2015 in Milan, whose theme is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. We see it as a crucial platform from which to gauge specific areas of action that will enhance the role of women and bridge the gender gap in food production.

The appointment in Milan next year will have major global relevance: 147 Countries and international organizations have already confirmed their participation, while corporate partners are joining the event to showcase their potential in  innovation to more than 20 million visitors. 

The event will be an opportunity for exchanging best practices in the area of food security and nutrition. It will also pave the way for new global partnerships between private and public sectors, aimed at promoting livelihood improvement and empowerment of the rural poor. We want to involve global leaders in a public debate to answer one simple, yet crucial question: how may we ensure sufficient, good, healthy and sustainable food for all?

Now, as everybody knows, and as we heard today, women are those who face major challenges in assuring nutrition and food access. With this in mind, we engaged in the “Women for Expo” initiative. I think we are quite clear in what should be the course of our action. As the Beijing Platform for Action put it back in the 1990s, “a transformed partnership based on equality between women and men is a condition for people-centered sustainable development”. The involvement of women is therefore key to properly develop a new framework for those, close to 1 billion of the global population, who still live in chronic hunger.

At the same time, transforming gender relationships is the result of resource intensive inputs and sustained political and cultural initiatives, which require multi-level and continued actions, from the local to the national and international levels. Women, in spite of being a crucial resource in agriculture and the rural economy, still do not have equal access to the resources and opportunities they need.

Of course, we are not starting from scratch, we have a legacy to build upon. Italy adopted the Beijing Declaration and its Platform back in 1997. Since then, we supported a number of bilateral and multilateral initiatives based on women’s empowerment, with the active involvement of civil society organizations, research centers, local administrations and multilateral institutions. In this regard, a prominent example comes to my mind, the former AFSI (Aquila Food Security Initiative, launched in 2009), since 2012 renamed “New Alliance”. 

Local level initiatives, however, proved to be the most effective: they actively empower women while simultaneously shape national-level policymaking and generate strategic cross-national partnerships. We have positive experience in this field, in Countries such as Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine and Senegal. 

We will share this experience in Milan, serving a humble but very noble cause: Women’s rights, though often recognized on a “de jure” basis, have proved to be hard to be transformed into “de facto” policies. 

One of the legacies of Women for EXPO will be the Women for Expo Charter, which is currently under consideration, and we hope it will be finalized as soon as next month. It will be a Declaration focused on food waste and on the concrete actions the International Board of Women for EXPO would like governments, the private sector, and individuals to take to overcome the challenge of food security and women’s empowerment. Let me take this opportunity to warmly thank the three members of the International Board here today (Hannah Tetteh, Ertharin Cousin, and Irene Khan), not only for joining this event, but also for their contribution to the Women for EXPO Charter.

Expo Milan and Women for Expo – 20 years after Beijing – will be a tool to make the necessary advancements in this field. We will be waiting for you, and will be there with you.