International Day of the Girl Child

"Taking action together, we can make the 21st century the century of women"-UN Women Executive Director

Statement of UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on the advancement of women to the Third Committee of the General Assembly in New York, on 11 October, 2013

Date: Friday, October 11, 2013

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Chair of the Third Committee H. E. Mr. Stephan Tafrov Bulgaria, 

Distinguished Delegates, 

UN Colleagues, 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is my pleasure to address you here today. As I see it, we have one goal and that is to realize the promise of the UN Charter, to realize the promise of the equal rights of men and women. 

We have reached a time when more parents want the same opportunities for their daughters and their sons. 

We have reached a time when more people are saying enough is enough. Violence against women and girls must end. 

At the same time, we see threats to women’s rights and the lives of women and girls. 

Here in the United Nations, we come together guided by universal values, in the belief that all human beings are born equal in inherent worth, dignity and rights. 

All people should be able to reach their potential.

We look forward to the day when our grandchildren will say, I can’t believe that women and girls used to face such high levels of violence and discrimination.

By taking action together for women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality, we can make the 21st century the century of women.

We meet today on the International Day of the Girl Child and our theme this year is innovating for girls’ education. 

We know that education is a basic human right. It is also one of the best means to reduce poverty within families and across generations, and to advance gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women. 

Yet while school enrolment rates are rising, too many women and girls are being left behind, denied their right to education. They face barriers such as poverty and gender-based violence and discrimination.

Today UN Women is proud to launch a new education initiative with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. It is called Voices against Violence, and is designed to end violence against women and girls. 

We aim to reach an estimated five million children and young people by 2020. 

With one in three women and girls experiencing abuse in their lifetime, violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation. 

Over 50 per cent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16 years of age. Globally, one in three girls is married before the age of 18 and one in nine before they turn 15. 

The new curriculum we are launching stems from the understanding that prevention should start early in life. 

Every girl and boy should learn that good relationships are based on a foundation of mutual respect, trust and equality. 


I am pleased to introduce several reports which we have prepared for your consideration under the item on the advancement of women. The first is the report of the Secretary General on Violence against women migrant workers (A/68/178), which focuses on protecting their human rights and ensuring their access to justice.

While women migrant workers are pillars for the well-being of their families and communities, far too many face human rights violations at every turn, at the hands of a variety of actors, including recruitment agents, traffickers, employers and public officials. 

Much more action is needed to step up prevention, protection and support for women migrant workers. I urge all Member States, in line with the report’s recommendations, to ratify and implement international instruments, in particular the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which just entered into force last month, and to take forward bilateral and multilateral arrangements to protect the rights of women migrant workers. 

It is time to ensure that legislative provisions and judicial processes are in place to protect the rights of women migrant workers and guarantee their access to justice. 

As we approach the International Day of Rural Women, I am pleased to introduce the Secretary-General’s report on the Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (A/68/179).  

Rural women account for a significant proportion of the agricultural labour force, and are key players in food production and the well-being of their families and communities. Yet they are prevented from fully participating in socio-economic and political life, accessing land and productive resources, and realizing their potential. And this harms all of us.

So the time is now to act on legal reforms so that women, including widows, can own the land they work.

Women farmers must be able to access financial services, water and sanitation, markets and innovative technologies.  

We need to promote full employment, decent work and social protection for rural women, both in agriculture and other areas. 

We must create decent employment opportunities that provide rural women with a fair income, security in the workplace, social protection and support vocational education and training.

And we must reduce the unpaid work burden of rural women by supporting improved access to infrastructure, public services such as childcare, and time and labour-saving technologies such as clean energy and clean cook stoves.

We know that women’s full and equal participation in leadership and decision-making is critical for the realization of all their rights. 

This brings me to the third report before the Committee today, on Measures taken and progress achieved in the promotion of women and political participation (A/68/184). It provides the most current update on the situation of women in political life globally.  

Globally, women hold just over one-fifth of all parliamentary seats (21.2 per cent). In other areas of political life, though, the picture is less promising. Just 17 per cent of the world’s ministers are women, and there are eight women serving as elected Head of State and 13 as Head of Government.  (14 women addressed the general debate of the 68th session of the General Assembly.) While there has been progress, it has been slow, and more needs to be done to ensure women participate on an equal footing with men in all public institutions. 

The most widely reported legislative reform was the adoption of temporary special measures in the form of electoral quotas. These have been adopted by 64 countries over the last two decades, and are an incredibly effective force for change.

Since many women candidates lack time and access to moneyed networks and credit, political empowerment goes hand-in-hand with the economic empowerment of women.

Despite promising initiatives and innovations, many obstacles remain for women to run for office and be elected. These include gender-based discrimination, stereotypes and traditionally prescribed roles, unfavourable legal frameworks, and lack of support by political parties.

We need comprehensive strategies that address the specific barriers to women’s participation at all levels of decision-making, including in situations of political transition.

We need to invest in educational tools and programmes to support aspiring political leaders, in particular young women, including capacity-building and practical training for political life. 

Let me turn to the Report of the Secretary-General on Measures taken and progress achieved in follow-up to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly (A/68/175). The report underlines that all intergovernmental bodies and processes have a critical role in the promotion of gender equality. 

While the responsibility for the full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action rests primarily with Governments, the realization of gender equality and women’s empowerment is a collective endeavour to which all stakeholders, at all levels must contribute. 

This is especially relevant in the light of the 20-year review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, and the post-2015 development agenda and sustainable development goals. 

Governments and all stakeholders should use national and regional preparations for the Beijing+20 process to identify where the gaps are and why, and take prioritized action to close those gaps, within specific timelines.

Beijing+20 is a call for accelerated implementation of commitments made nearly 20 years ago. The time for action is now.

The Beijing+20 process is also an opportunity to strengthen gender mainstreaming in all sectors and in all areas of development, including in the elaboration of the post-2015 development framework.

We need to put the rights of women and girls at the center of strategies to fight poverty and to advance peace and security and sustainable development.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment should be reflected as a stand-alone goal and integrated through targets and indicators into all goals of any new development framework.

I pay tribute to the Member States for having the foresight to create UN-Women. I am proud to lead this organization at this critical time. UN-Women will seize the Beijing+20, the post-2015 and all other opportunities, to be a leading voice and advocate for gender equality, and to make a lasting difference for women and girls everywhere.

Together we can make the 21st century the century of women with a vision of equality and dignity for all. 

I thank you.