Lakshmi Puri calls upon women leaders to act for gender equality

Introductory statement for the call for action entitled “Women Leaders: Time to Step it up for Gender Equality” by Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri on 28 February, in Santiago, Chile.

Date: Saturday, February 28, 2015

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Your excellency President of Chile and my revered former boss Madam Bachelet,

Secretary-General of the United Nations,

Executive Director of UN Women,

It gives me great pleasure to join the Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz in introducing the call for action entitled “Women Leaders: Time to step it up for Gender Equality” to be launched today on the occasion of what the Secretary-General referred yesterday as historic for the UN, for Chile and for the women of the world.

The call for action begins by seeking to celebrate another historic conjunction and opportunity of the century – the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as well as the international community’s project to launch the first universal sustainable development agenda to end poverty, transform all lives and protect the planet we share.

The call for action acknowledges that the two strategic objectives of Beijing Platform which are: taking measures to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making; and increasing women’s capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership, have become the gold standards to which every polity, society and economy must aspire.

And that there is indeed something to celebrate.

Take the case of our host country Chile. Gabriela Mistral – the first Latin American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in 1945– presented herself as a “daughter of Chilean democracy,” even though, at that time, Chilean women did not have the right to vote or stand for Chile's Presidency.

In fact she had herself chided her friend, Eduardo Frei, who later became President of Chile, “You men deserve the iron cross for the most stupendous distraction” of not addressing women’s right to vote.

Today, 70 years later, an iconic woman is leading the Chilean democracy for the second time fresh from having led UN Women, the first global institution set up by the international community to promote gender equality, women’s empowerment and women's rights everywhere. And the head of Chile's Parliament is an eminent woman too.

Twenty years ago we couldn’t have this constellation of women leaders from around the world in a meeting to give a big push for women to be granted equal and full voice, participation and leadership everywhere and in every aspect.

You are women whose voices are heard when it comes to local, national and international policy- and programme-making in development, in peace and security, in humanitarian action and resilience-building, in the promotion and protection of human rights and in climate change action.

As Heads of State and Government, as ministers, as United Nations leaders, mayors of cities, as judges and police and military top brass, as editors and media leaders, as filmmakers and artists and as faith-based leaders, you have shown that when a woman's voice is heard, when she participates in decision-making, when she exercises leadership, she most likely brings something unique, special and of high value and quality to key decisions and its impact on humankind’s biggest projects.

I wish I could say that you represent the majority but we all know that you are the exception and not the rule. Whether it is the household, community, private sector or public institutions, these remain bastions of male dominance. It is these structural inequalities based on deep-seated social and cultural norms that we seek to transform.

Learning from your experiences, from your triumphs as much as your struggles as women in leadership positions, the call for action takes stock and identifies gaps and challenges. It evokes outrage at the current rate of progress which is so slow that it may take up some 80 years to reach our cherished goal of a gender-equal world.

So we assert that we cannot wait another century. We have already waited for two millennia and a century since women started their struggle for the vote. We thus set an expiry date to end gender inequality, discrimination and violence against women and aim to reach ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’.

We affirm the intrinsic value of women’s participation and leadership – it is the right thing to do for justice, equality, and the realization of human rights of women. At the same time it is essential for good governance, structural reform, economic growth, environmental sustainability and peace. That is why women’s place is in the world of decision-making – and we make a world of difference.

We then go on to identify where we want women in decision-making and which bastions of power we wish to transform and engender. Public institutions, legislative, judiciary, economic leadership and private sector, in driving economic growth and climate change action.

Then we address what it will take, here and now, to achieve this. Political will to implement this critical area but also all of the other critical areas of Beijing. It will require empowering marginalized women. It will entail prioritizing women’s participation in key international ongoing processes and outcomes.

We ask governments to change or adopt laws, policies and measures, especially to take affirmative action. Explicit commitments by governments to implement these and regularly monitor results and holding all stakeholders accountable, is an imperative. They must also support the growing global solidarity movement involving what our Executive Director calls levers of change, civil society, international and regional organizations, media, political parties, youth and male champions.

It seeks to address the chronic underinvestment and shocking resource neglect and denial with regard to gender equality and women’s empowerment and calls for this huge funding gap to be filled and significant increased investment in women’s empowerment to be prioritized.

We call for a paradigm shift to a shared responsibility and shared leadership approach among all stakeholders, and with both women and girls, men and boys working together. So we move from the past to the future of Beijing Platform for Action, to setting a new destiny for this and successive generations of women leaders to come.

This call for action is meant to be a wakeup call and an inspiration to write a new history of humanity which is not only his story but her story with women writing and making it, as it seems to be happening here.

I thank you.