UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Women’s Leadership Vital to a More Just and Equitable World


Date: 11 April 2011

Closing Keynote delivered by Ms. Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women at the Women's Funding Network Global Conference, Brooklyn, New York, on 9th April 2011.

[Check against delivery.]

Thank you, Musimbi, for those kind words, and thanks to Chris and all of you for such a warm welcome. It is a great pleasure to be able to give this closing address, which I hope will also generate new ideas about the work of the United Nations, and especially of UN Women.

In coming here today I was intrigued by what you said about partnerships and particularly about the ability of women's funds, by acting as a network to change the way individuals, corporations, foundations and governments invest in women and girls. Your vision of shared leadership and collective action as central to extending your impact and building a movement for social change in many ways mirrors that of UN Women.

This morning I will talk briefly about what led to the creation of UN Women and what I think it represents in terms of advancing women's rights and gender equality as well as some of the challenges in meeting the high expectations it has generated. I will also suggest some ways in which I think we can work together for greater impact.

First, I believe that the creation of UN Women, which consolidates four smaller and chronically underfunded agencies, under the leadership of an Under-Secretary General, represents the recognition by UN Member States that if improving the status of women is in fact central to achieving all national development goals, then something needed to be done to speed up the slow pace of change. In creating UN Women they signalled that gender equality and women's rights are on a par with other global imperatives, such as ending poverty and hunger and combatting climate change. Here let me say that this resolution would not have happened without the work of women's rights advocates, including many in government. Women's groups, both North and South, united in the Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) campaign and other networks to press for its adoption. What was the theory of change, if any, that drove this campaign?

Partly I think it reflects a belief that the greater the resources and authority you bring to bear on something, the more likely you are to achieve results— that if governments, civil society and the private sector were to agree to advance common goals for gender equality, and commit significant resources, they would do everything they possibly could to make sure their investment really paid off.

Partly it also reflects the awareness that only when the head of UN Women is sufficiently senior to sit at the Secretary-General's policy table, will the gender experts be part of the policy group in each country—making sure that the policy advice that the UN offers governments includes meaningful gender equality outcomes. Now we need to show we can live up to these expectations. Not only do we have to raise the promised resources, we have to demonstrate they will be put to good use. We have to persuade governments, especially the finance ministers that delivering on gender equality commitments -made under CEDAW, the Beijing Platform, the Millennium Declaration, as well as human rights conventions—will bring benefits to women -and also to society as a whole.

I have to tell you, presidents and parliamentarians make many commitments, to many worthwhile goals, but for any of these to rise to the top of the list, a whole lot of people need to be convinced, including various line ministries, such as health, education, housing and so on, as well as political parties and elected representatives. Some will need to see the payoff in terms of economic growth, others in terms of a healthy and well-educated public, and still others in terms of basic human rights.

We know of course that these are not mutually exclusive categories. At least since Beijing, and probably before, women's rights advocates have articulated a concept of human rights and social justice that links the experience and rights of individuals to the experience and rights of communities and other collectivities, to translate formal rights in constitutions or treaties into policies and services that can make them meaningful—personally and politically. Ultimately, the human rights framework, which has provided both inspiration and strength to women's and social justice movements in countries worldwide, is what grounds all of our work.

However, we need to do a better job of listening to Governments and understanding their concerns, creating the kind of dialogue that can bring about the results we would both like to see in terms of economic development, conflict resolution and human security.

The challenges we face are daunting. The huge gaps in wealth and income that have accompanied global growth have deepened since the economic and financial crisis and pushed millions of workers, especially women into permanent informal employment. Both political conflict and natural disasters are driving up fuel and food prices, threatening livelihoods and food security in many countries and straining household coping strategies.

This does not have to be the case. Politicians and policymakers—from all political parties—can be persuaded that things can be managed better, so that we can keep our countries safe and our economies prospering—by investing in the future, building stronger safety nets, guaranteeing basic physical and social protection for everyone.

In fact, we are seeing progress, including on women's rights. Today, 132 countries have laws against domestic violence and 115 guarantee women equal property rights. Women in countries who once stayed out of the public arena are now standing side by side with men to demand freedom and dignity, and the right to participate in revitalizing their societies.

So I know change can happen. But I also know that we can't make it happen alone. That is why I say everywhere I go that partnerships are essential. Working together— we are not only more efficient, more focused and more comprehensive, bringing together knowledge and expertise across the UN, from government, civil society, foundations and the private sector to tackle challenges in a holistic way; but we are also more powerful—working from bottom up and top down to create the momentum for change.

In developing our Strategic Plan, we therefore identified the priority areas in which we will take the lead within the UN system as well as areas where others are leading, where we can add our support. And in all of these, we will focus on strengthening partnerships, or like you say, collective action, and see how we can build that into that irresistible change momentum.

UN Women's strategic priorities include: women's economic empowerment; women's political participation and leadership; ending violence against women and girls, and engaging women and women's rights fully in peace and post-conflict processes and in national development planning. Each of these priorities entails research and data analysis, particularly at country level, with indicators against which to measure gender gaps and progress in narrowing them—designed to make the case that progress in gender equality benefits society as a whole.

Each of these areas also entails action for results - both in long-term programming and short term support demonstrating what is possible when the power of half the world's population is harnessed for economic growth, political vitality and social development.

Let me talk a little bit about three of these.

First, there is growing interest in women's economic empowerment-across the UN system, the corporate and business sector and even the international financial institutions. The World Bank and others have shown that women's increased labour force participation and earnings generate greater economic growth and have a multiplier effect on society as a whole, particularly in terms of education and health outcomes.

It is also true that women who earn their own income can challenge the way decisions are made in households, demand the right to engage in the political arena, and claim their right to be safe from violence. But women are still economically marginalized in many countries. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, up to 80 percent of women workers are in some form of vulnerable employment, with no benefits or security, low pay and in many cases, no pay at all.

UN women intends to work closely with partners to address the macroeconomic policy challenges in ways that support women's economic autonomy, including opportunities for decent work and asset-building, basic social protection and the extension of labour protections to informal as well as formal workers, particularly for migrant workers. We will work with UN system partners to develop a coordinated strategy for advancing women's economic opportunities and rights—and prioritize reaching those most marginalized.

In the area of violence against women and girls, which is widespread and persistent in all countries, we are finally seeing some momentum for change. Countries are also beginning to count the costs. In the US, for example, these are estimated at US $5.8 billion a year in extra health and mental health care and lost productivity; the estimate in Canada is US$1.16 billion.

Better and more comparable data is needed on incidence. UN Women is working with WHO and other UN partners to promote a standard module that countries can include in household surveys—so that no country can say we didn't know that the problem was so bad because we didn't have the data. We are developing a set of minimum standards and services for countries to adopt in responding to such violence, such as by setting up hotlines and shelters, ensuring police protection for those at risk and access to health care for survivors of such violence.

Touching briefly on peace and security: Some of you may know that during the first UN General Assembly in 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt insisted that women should have the opportunity to “share in the work of peace and reconstruction as they did in war and resistance.

She would be disappointed, UN Women's research found that in 24 peace processes over the past two decades, women formed less than 8 percent of negotiating teams—with the result that women's needs and concerns are almost entirely missing from peace agreements. A study of 585 peace agreements concluded between 1990 and 2010 found that just 16 percent referred to women at all- only 3 percent had a reference to sexual or gender based violence.

But change is happening. The Security Council for example, now recognizes sexual violence in conflict not only as a humanitarian issue but also as a security issue, one which they have the responsibility to prevent. The UN now requires that at least 15 percent of all UN spending in conflict and post-conflict situations be targeted to gender equality goals — up from the average total of only 5 percent.

Turning now to the resource challenge. We've made clear we need to strengthen our capacity and that of our partners, especially at country level, to meet expectations and get the results we know are possible —but many are holding off, waiting to see results first.

Women's groups, including those that advocate for gender equality and call attention to implementation gaps are also affected. As development assistance shifts away from specific projects and groups to government development budgets, these groups find it hard to get the funding needed to allow them to carry out their advocacy and monitoring role. UN Women will seek support for these groups also.

This is an area in which you can help, not by giving to UN Women, but by supporting the Trust Funds that UN Women administers, which channel grants directly to women's groups. The Gender Equality Fund, for example, awards substantial financial grants to governments and civil society organizations working to achieve women's political and economic empowerment—and demand greater accountability. The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women gives grants to innovative initiatives to combat violence in communities, in schools and in public spaces.

You can also help us bring the private sector on board—not just as a financial supporter but as a more engaged development partner.

More generally, we need you to find a way to harness the huge amount of wealth created in countries like this one and channel it to the growing number of people who are stuck in poverty, or slipping into poverty, the majority of whom are women and children. In time that is left, I would really like to hear what some of you think—what you see as the main challenges, how you work to address them, what you think UN Women should do to increase the impact of all of our work

Thank you.