UN General Assembly Thematic Debate on Inequality

Date: Monday, July 8, 2013

Speech by Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head of UN Women, at the UN General Assembly Thematic Debate on Inequality, 8 July 2013, New York

Good afternoon. Excellencies, fellow panelists, distinguished participants.

I would like to start my remarks first by extending my thanks to Mr. President Vuk Jeremic for gathering us here on such an important topic: social inequalities. It is a great privilege to be with you today.

Inequalities are and will continue to be one of the biggest development challenges in creating a more just and sustainable world. We know that rising inequalities are a concern in every country. Currently we are seeing seasons of discontent around the world. This is a wake-up call and an opportunity for ending inequalities in our time. Addressing inequalities is a means and an end for transformation around the world.

Inequalities are multidimensional, and they are strongly intertwined; they tend to reproduce themselves over time and across generations. Those who are income poor are also likely to experience other forms of inequality, such as those related to gender, minority status and/or disability; they lack access to sustainable livelihoods, and are more likely to be exposed to environmental pollution. And gender inequality is the mother of all inequalities.

UN Women and UNICEF co-led the Global Thematic Consultation on Inequalities. The consultation revealed that gender-based inequality remains one of the most pervasive forms of inequality, found in all societies, and affecting a larger proportion of the world’s population than any other form of discrimination. The global inequality consultation concluded by stating that “a new Post-2015 Development Agenda should therefore include not only a universal goal for gender equality and the empowerment and advancement of women and girls, but also ensure that gender and other dominant inequalities are mainstreamed in all relevant areas through disaggregated targets and indicators.” Today, the Secretary-General also affirmed that gender equality and women’s empowerment is at the centre of the UN development agenda.

Gender-based discrimination, and the denial to women and girls of their human rights, remains the single most widespread driver of inequalities today. Violence against women, taking many different forms, is a major element of this massive and continuing violation of human rights.

The Millennium Development Goals have played a critical role in mobilizing international action to reduce gender inequality and extreme poverty and improve health and primary education outcomes, for example. Efforts to reach these goals have made a tangible difference in the lives of women and men and girls and boys around the world. The stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the MDGs – MDG3 – has no doubt paid real dividends by putting a global spotlight on gender inequality.

These gains need to be sustained in the new generation of development goals and must go further than the MDGs and explicitly address the root causes of gender-based discrimination, leading to transformative change. It must tackle the necessary structural changes that underpin gender-based inequalities. This is why transformation in gender needs to be central to the new development framework. In this regard, UN Women welcomes the report of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons, particularly its emphasis on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through a stand-alone goal, and the strong focus on ending violence against women, including ending child marriage, as a core element of a comprehensive agenda for sustainable development.

We at UN Women are also calling for a strengthened framework for the post-2015 agenda that can transform women’s and girls’ lives through a stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment. The stand-alone gender equality goal needs to address the structural foundations of gender-based inequality and facilitate the thorough mainstreaming of gender equality into other goals.

Any new development agenda must be grounded in human rights agreements that Governments have already signed onto. This includes the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, and UN resolutions, including the recent agreement of the Commission on the Status of Women on eliminating and preventing all forms of violence against women and girls. To be truly transformative, we believe that the new framework should tackle three core areas: freedom from violence for women and girls; capabilities and resources; and voice, leadership and participation.

Let me very briefly elaborate on each of these three points:

  • First, violence against women and girls must stop. Concrete actions to eliminate the debilitating fear and/or experience of violence must be a centrepiece of any future framework. This violence, which causes great physical and psychological harm to women and girls, is a violation of their human rights, constrains their ability to fulfill their true potential and carries great economic costs for them and for society.
  • Second, women and girls must have equal access to resources and opportunities to reach their full potential. The often skewed distribution of capabilities, such as knowledge and health – encompassing sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights for women and adolescent girls, as well as resources and opportunities, such as productive assets (including land), decent work and equal pay – needs to be addressed with renewed urgency to build women’s economic and social security.
  • Third, we cannot have a sustainable world without women’s voice, leadership and participation.

In sum, together, these three dimensions affect women’s and girls’ safety, economic and social security and choices, and their voice in shaping public policy priorities. We have recently issued a position paper outlining this vision that I encourage you all to read – it is available on our website. There is plenty of evidence to show that countries with a higher status of women also enjoy higher levels of social and economic performance and environmental sustainability.

In 2014, the Commission on the Status of Women will examine “challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.” This will be a critical opportunity to look at the achievements generated by the MDGs for women and girls and to discuss how to accelerate action to close gaps. This will be an important stepping stone towards 2015, where the Commission will conduct a 20-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action. The Beijing+20 process will be instrumental to ensuring that gender equality and women’s empowerment feature prominently in the post-2015 development framework.

Addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment means addressing inequalities across the board. Investing in gender equality improves health outcomes, accelerates economic growth, reduces poverty and contributes to peace, democracy and stability.

The discussions to shape the post-2015 global development agenda offer a real opportunity to drive lasting change for women’s rights and equality. A strong global goal can push our societies to the tipping point of rejecting violence and discrimination against women and girls and unleash the potential of half the population for a more peaceful, just and prosperous world and a sustainable planet.

Thank you for your attention.