“Now more than ever women’s organizations are needed” — Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the CSW60 parallel event “Sustainable development through women’s organizations: the Norwegian and the Ethiopian experience”.

Date: Monday, March 14, 2016

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Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends,

Thank you very much for inviting UN Women to this interesting and important event.

Let me say from the outset, that the role of women’s organizations in building sustainable, equitable and peaceful societies cannot be overstated. In UN Women, we rely on an almost symbiotic relationship with the international women’s movement, and it manifests itself from the ground up—from working with local, grassroots associations to including civil society in intergovernmental forums and negotiations.

I wish to congratulate the Norwegian Women’s Public Health Association on your 120th anniversary this year. Norway’s first class public health and welfare system owes a lot to you!

It is impressive to see how the Association is an example of women's solidarity in practice. And, how what started as seeing and responding to concrete needs, evolved into national policy and systems thanks to the advocacy of a dedicated group of women. I salute your founder, Fredrikke Quam, a trailblazer, a feminist and instrumental both in the quest for Norway’s national independence and for its women’s right to vote.

Another pioneer of that time was Eglantyne Jebb, who founded Save the Children in 1919. Children were starving after the First World War, which led her to organize relief. An organization was born. But more than that, out of Save the Children came the first Declaration of the Rights of the Child, later followed by the Convention of the Right of the Child; elevating a one-time, imminent, urgent issue to a universal, binding commitment.

Again and again through history and today, women see the needs in their communities, they organize to address those needs and they build their societies in the process.

Just think of the fight to end domestic and all forms of violence against women. Yesterday, Bandana Rana, eminent women’s activist and pioneer of our time from Nepal, was named Woman of Distinction by the NGO CSW, for her many years of fighting for women’s rights in her country, especially addressing the concerns of survivors of violence, marginalized and destitute women and their empowerment. In Nepal, as everywhere else, women themselves started organizing shelters for survivors of violence. An act of sisterhood and solidarity, and out of the shelters grew the awareness that violence against women is not a private problem, but a societal one. Out of women organizing for women grew a movement, then public recognition, then laws, policies, international conventions and last year, finally; ending violence against women became part of Sustainable Development Goal number 5.

Similarly, every target in Goal 5, as every gender target in other goals, owe their existence to the longstanding activism of women’s organizations. No victory has ever been given to women, each one has been earned with blood, sweat and tears. And so, it should be self-evident that women’s organizations play a fundamental role in developing sustainable societies.

Only, it isn’t always evident to everyone. Still women are too often seen as passive victims and recipients, and left out of the forums where their lives are decided upon. This is especially true in conflict, war and humanitarian crisis. But women are the first responders, the ones who keep families together, the ones who provide and protect. Therefore it is so crucial to take women’s needs into account and work with the women affected to rebuild societies.

After Hurricane Mitch in 1998, aid did not reach the marginalized, Afro-indigenous Garifuna community on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. So the women organized themselves and created an emergency grassroots committee, coordinating community response and relief efforts as well as longer term initiatives such as seed banks for food security and planting of fruit trees to limit erosion. They were so successful that their community emerged stronger than before the hurricane, and the committee was called upon to inform the national disaster planning and management of the government. Here is a quote from a woman in Aguan, the town hardest hit: “The woman is the center of everything. If the women didn’t struggle for this town, who knows where we would be now? Because as women, we are the ones who live in flesh and bone all that has happened. We have women organized here. Because women see the future, we see how we can move forward.”

Ethiopia is also moving forward, making strides for a sustainable, prosperous future. It is great to learn about how the Women’s Health Association of Ethiopia, just like its sister association in Norway did, is contributing to building Ethiopia though women organizing for their health and that of their communities, strengthening women’s participation, leadership and economic empowerment in the process.

With the new 2030 Agenda, and the Sustainable Development Goals, now more than ever women’s organizations are needed.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are at the centre of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda positions the Beijing Platform for Action as a foundational framework for sustainable development, with governments committing to work to significantly increase investments to close the gender gap, to strengthen support for gender equality institutions at all levels, and to systematically mainstream gender perspectives in the implementation of the Agenda. 

Last year saw transcendental shifts in the normative and political intentions of world leaders and societies towards gender equality. We only need look at what was achieved at the 70th General Assembly and the subsequent Global Leaders’ Meeting, where some 80 Heads of State made concrete commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

We are now standing at a crossroads where the leadership and strength of the women’s movement will be critical to take us up the path towards gender equality: Planet 50-50 by 2030.

Civil society, particularly women’s organizations, play a key role in holding governments accountable for the full implementation of and compliance with international norms and standards on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Inclusive processes and structures are needed for women’s civil society organizations—from grassroots to regional and international levels—to effectively participate in the implementation and monitoring of the post-2015 development agenda and UN Women will advocate for this tirelessly and at the highest levels.

At this 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, women’s organizations from all over the world come together to share experiences, to learn from each other and to push, together, for the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda, for a Planet 50-50 by 2030.

A sustainable future for this planet depends on women’s full participation, on women coming together for action, on the myriad women’s organizations—such as yours—that form the very fabric of societies.

Thank you.