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Monday 20 January 2014, Royal Institution of Great Britain

The 2014 Women of the Year Lecture took place on Monday 20 January at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The guest speaker was Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, who was in conversation with eminent presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Todayprogramme, Sarah Montague.

Jane Luca, Chair of Women of the Year and Controller of External Affairs at ITV, introduced Helen and Sarah to a distinguished audience of Women of the Year alumni and friends.

Sarah began the discussion by questioning how Helen was drawn into the political realm. Growing up on a farm in New Zealand, Helen explained that although she originally had no plans to pursue leadership, her passion for politics drew her into her first parliamentary role.

“I began to work my way up the Labour party, starting with menial tasks and then moving on to positions of responsibility,” she said, “Politics was what I was most interested in.”

Helen recounted how, as a woman, she faced many challenges in her rise to power. “Running for my first safe seat in parliament was a hard process,” she explained. “Many viewed it as a ‘working man’s seat.’ Politics is not for the faint hearted.”

She went on to depict how, following her time as Prime Minister, she tackled her new role in the UNDP. Helen addressed her goal to empower women across the world, and emphasised the importance of educating women in order to achieve gender equality.

“A nation cannot develop while leaving half of the population behind,” she said, “We must educate young women and girls – they are the building blocks for future generations.”

Sarah then invited members of the audience to ask Helen questions and comment on the issues raised. These questions covered Helen’s views on current difficulties facing global development, and how women can help to address gender issues both at home and abroad.

In response to the Syrian crisis, Helen spoke about how the country had lost 35 years of development through the destruction of the ongoing conflict. She also addressed her negative opinion of US intervention in Iraq.

“A foreign intervention did not help,” she said. “Iraq is now very worrying. I was there late last year, and you can see how the Syrian situation is affecting it too.”

Helen addressed many questions regarding the current state of gender inequality, from sexual harassment to sex-selective abortions. She explained how every woman can make a difference through using her own skills to address inequality issues.

“How do you want to make an impact? It might be as lawyer, teacher, civil society worker, or a politician,” she said. “Women have to have confidence in themselves – they can do it.”

The 2014 lecture ended with Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, President of Women of the Year, presenting Helen with the Women of the Year Lecture Award.

The 2014 Women of the Year lecture was sponsored by Barclays.

You can watch the 2014 Women of the Year lecture on our YouTube Channel.