“UN Women stands ready to collaborate with everyone to make the lives of women and girls better”—Executive Director

Date: Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for this opportunity to be with you here at the World Assembly for Women. I thank the first lady for being here with us to support the many initiatives of the women who are here, and I thank Prime Minister Abe for convening us, for continuing to lead from the front as a strong champion for gender equality and women’s empowerment and for being one of our leaders for the HeForShe movement of men who stand up for gender equality.

Japan is one of UN Women’s closest partners, and we greatly appreciate the political, financial and advocacy support provided for the work that we do together. Japan’s financial support has enabled us to reach out to thousands of women in areas affected by war, in communities where women need sustainable livelihoods, and where young people need access to the means to further their training and education.

This afternoon, the Prime Minister’s speech highlighted aspects of Goal 5, which is the Sustainable Development Goal that focuses on gender equality. His speech also touched on the recommendations of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment. One such recommendation addresses women in the informal sector, because in many countries women in the informal sector are 80 per cent of the women who work outside of the home. The Prime Minister raised the issue of incentivizing the private sector so that it engages women effectively in leadership in the economy. The under-representation of women and the need to address that is a part of Goal 5 and a recommendation of the High-Level Panel. Prime Minister Abe touched on the need to provide support so that we reduce women’s burden of unpaid care work, in particular the taking care of children. Again, this is one of the recommendations of Goal 5, as well as of the High-Level Panel.

If Japan goes on like this it will be one of the countries that will perform very highly in the Sustainable Development Goals; I hope you will be on top of the leader board.

In addition to the Prime Minister’s personal commitment, Japan also is a partner in the HeForShe movement through Nagoya University’ s participation as one of the ten universities whose President is a HeForShe Champion. The University’s commitments include the building of a research centre which specializes in doing work on gender equality, and making their facilities available to scholars from all over the world. I am sure they will help us to build on the progress that will be made in Japan with all the interventions that were announced today. I hope that we also build via the other countries that will benefit from the centre.

Today we discussed the issue of women’s participation in STEM careers. We looked at the opportunities, possibilities and also the barriers that women face on their way to becoming actors in technology companies, and how to bring the changes that make life better through the use of science.

We heard Ms. Marne Levine, the COO of Instagram, one of only a handful of women in the world to lead a tech company, who is not only a leader in the workplace, but who has led the company to participate actively in the ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’ and ‘Orange the World’ campaigns. What that says to us is that when we put women in charge, not only will they deliver on the bottom line of the company, they will also take on board issues that change society.

The issue of violence against women is critical to all of us, no matter what work we do, because it remains one of the biggest challenges of our time. One out of three women will face violence in her lifetime. Violence against women is the most dehumanizing form of gender inequality. It is a violation for which society has a very high tolerance, as impunity for perpetrators, repeat offences, and the lack of action by law enforcers all remains high.

Women are subjected to violence at home, often by a person they know, in front of children in some cases, which turns some of the children into perpetrators as they get older after witnessing the violence. The girl children grow up expecting to be violated and see it as a norm.

Women are violated in war zones by both sides of the conflict, by those who are fighting for them as well as by those who are fighting against them.

Women and girls are violated in schools and on university campuses by educators and fellow students. They are violated in the field of sport by their coaches and fellow sportsmen. They are violated in open spaces, in parks and they are gang raped.

They are violated at work by co-workers. They are harassed, and in some cases they have no recourse. They are violated going to fetch water from the river in countries where there is no infrastructure and clean water in the house. They are violated by the UN peacekeepers who are supposed to protect them.

The WHO calls this extent of violence a global epidemic and a public health crisis. The data that we use to gauge the extent of violence against women in the world is generated by WHO in most cases. This is data that is collected from nurses, from physicians, from dentists, from orthopedic centres, from mental health practitioners, from emergency and trauma units. They report millions and millions of heart-breaking stories.

So when we talk about gender equality, it does not matter which field we come from. This is one issue which we have to conquer, and conquer together.

Education and women’s economic empowerment—very much a subject of discussion in this conference—are critical for us to turn this situation around. And I would urge us, as we discuss and think about such actions, to connect the dots to the challenges of ending violence against women.

The Sustainable Development Goals give us a pathway to addressing gender equality in a global as well as in a universal approach, with critical actions to ensure that our interventions that address gender equality also create change that lasts.

Among the changes that Goal 5 specifically addresses, one is ending all forms of discrimination again women. In the world today, there are still more than 150 countries with one or more laws that discriminate against women. The action required is that by 2030 we should have no country that still has legislation that discriminates against women, and that by 2020 we should already be able to gauge the progress we are making.

In Goal 5, we have to address the discriminatory norms, attitudes and stereotypes that continue the discrimination against women. In that regard, we must ensure that as we pass good laws—because many countries have passed laws that address gender equality—at the same time we take initiatives that address the social norms, attitudes and stereotypes that tend to undermine the good laws that have passed.

Another critical intervention that is required of us is to address the issue of unpaid care work. This morning, the Prime Minister made reference to parental leave as well as to child care. More than 80 per cent of men and women become biological parents in their lifetimes. The inability of women to get on with their lives because of motherhood - because of what the ILO calls the ‘motherhood penalty’ - is one of the barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Addressing the issues of childcare and parental leave will be a game changer for millions of women in the world.

The Goals also focus on harmful practices that impact on women and girls, such as ending child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation.

With child marriage, the lives of girls are stopped even before they have blossomed. Today there are 700 million girls who were married before they were 18. Many of them have not even reached the age of 13 before their lives are changed. We can still turn around the lives of those girls by giving them second chances. If we do not intervene decisively in this area of child marriage, there is a risk that by 2050 there will be more than one billion girls who were married as children. This must not happen under our watch. The fact that Member States have agreed to address this issue gives us an opportunity to make changes that will create a better life for women, and change that lasts.

Of course, ending violence against women is one of the focal areas in the Goals. So is the representation and participation of women, which requires us to take specific action, such as on equal pay for work of equal value. Again, millions of women’s lives will be changed just by that action. It also addresses the importance of a minimum wage, given that women form the base of the pyramid in every economy. If we increase the minimum wage, we change the pattern of life for millions of working poor.

The Goals also address the importance of political participation and the role of women in decision-making. Without women in decision-making, the decisions that are made about and for women tend not to work as well for women as they work for men, even when they are well intentioned.

The World Economic Forum in its Gender Gap report projects that it will take us 170 years to achieve full economic participation between men and women if there is no change in the current trajectories. Again, this calls for us to act because there are interventions that we can take to turn this around.

I want to highlight the importance of leadership in gender equality. It is not acceptable that the struggle for gender equality is usually left to women’s ministries that are underfunded and unable to carry out the big tasks that are set for them. They do not always have enough power and authority to make the far-reaching changes that are needed in society—such as fiscal reforms and macro-economic changes—so that the lives of women can be bettered by the use of policy and the recognition of the contribution they make in their economies. That is why it is critical that Heads of State lead from the front in the area of gender equality. It is for that reason that we appreciate WAW and we appreciate the role the Prime Minster is playing, because we need more leaders to bring about the kind of changes that are required.

Ladies and gentlemen, sport, just like education, is a game changer and an equalizer. I would like to congratulate Japan on the wonderful opportunity to host the Olympic Games in 2020. There are women all over the world whose lives can be changed by sports. However, we face a challenge because many young women drop out of sports during puberty. Girls are 49 per cent more likely to drop out of sport than boys at the age of puberty because as their bodies change they become embarrassed and do not want to be in public. In that process we lose future champions.

We therefore adopted a programme which has been embraced by the International Olympic Committee called ‘One Win Leads to Another’. We started in Rio working with girls from the favelas to encourage them to stay in sports, to build their confidence, and this now has become one of the programmes that will be a legacy programme of the International Olympic Committee.

We hope to collaborate with Japan when the Olympics are here so that again we can make sure that one win will lead to another, and girls not just in Japan but also in the surrounding countries who are good at sports but who are at risk of dropping out, will see sports as an equalizer and an enabler.

To support and to empower girls in education and in sports, it is critical to have teachers and coaches who do not have prejudice. Investing in coaches so that they appreciate and support girls, and investing in teachers who can support girls without discrimination, on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation, or any other reason, is important to ensure that sports, combined with education, can become game changers.

Even though the challenge of violence against women in significant, even though the challenge of poverty of women is significant, we have examples of interventions that work. We can scale them up, we can implement them, and we can be a partner. It is possible that we will reach 2030 having attained substantive equality.

We are the first generation with the possibility to make that change happen. But it is in our hands to do so—the hands of many leaders in the private sector, in government, heads of schools, and parents as leaders of their family, to make those decisions and make those changes happen.

Here in Tokyo, I hope that we will be able to come up with interventions that are tangible, that will bind us no matter what country we come from, because in the Sustainable Development Goals there is a platform for partnership and collaboration.

UN Women stands ready to collaborate with everyone to make the lives of women and girls better and to ensure that the vision that is enshrined in the SDGs is attainable, especially by those girls and women who live at the base of the pyramid, because we should not leave anybody behind.

Thank you.