Speech: African women leaders push for progress

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the High-Level Briefing on the “African Women Leaders Network” during the 72nd UN General Assembly

Date: Thursday, September 21, 2017

[As Delivered]

I want to start by appreciating my sisters and brothers here with today; H.E. Ms. Otiko Afisa Djaba, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Ghana is here, because Ghana in the African Union is the champion for gender and development. So, we are in a good place.

We have our sister and advocate on women, peace and security Ms. Bineta Diop, Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, African Union Commission. We have Ambassador Patricia Flor, Director-General for International Order, United Nations and Arms Control at the German Federal Foreign Office, and our brother from Germany, who is also a friend of the African women.

We have our sister, H.E. Ms. Minata Samate Cessouma, Commissioner for Political Affairs, African Union. We have our sister H.E. Ms. Catherine Samba-Panza, former President of the Transition, Central African Republic, who as Head of State did a wonderful job at a very difficult time in a very complex country. When Madame Diop and I visited her to pledge our solidarity and support, we said, as we say in my country, “stay strong, stay strong”.  And it was good that she did stay strong, and we are so proud of her. And of course, we have H.E. Ms. Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sweden, and also my brother here from Sweden.  As you know, Sweden has always been a good friend of African women. So, we are good here. We are really good.

As Mrs. Diop has indicated, we launched this Network in June this year; it was a vibrant time. Many of you in the house today were there at that launch, and we committed ourselves to some critical deliverables. We said that this was not going to be a talk shop, but that it was going to be action-oriented; it must have a direct linkage with grassroots, so it must not be just meetings in New York. People on the ground must feel the presence and the existence of this Network.

We also agreed that it must be intergenerational, with a mechanism to bring in young people and work with them. We identified the fact that we have got excellent resolutions in the African Union and in our countries, but not all of them are being implemented as quickly as possible. We are going to identify critical existing conventions and agreements of the AU and rally behind them, so we can see that there is effective implementation.

We particularly highlighted ending child marriage—and we are now adding accelerating that commitment—because this is a position that has been taken by all countries.

We agreed that we will make sure that we are felt in the countries where women need us most, and that is why we will embark on solidarity missions.

We also said that we would start contributing towards financing this Network. I think we were able at the end of the first meeting to bank 3000 euros. It is a start. The Minister of Finance of Uganda was instantly elected as Treasurer, and she was telling us that she wants to see the books being kept properly.

We agreed that we would promote South-South and North-South cooperation, so that we would have friendship between and amongst Africans, as well as friendship between Africa and the rest of the world.

We agreed that we would address the participation of women in elections in their countries, as well as ensuring that the electoral processes in our countries are engendered so that women can participate.

And we said we would meet twice a year, and that every time we meet we must have a concrete report of what we have done in the interim period.

So what have we done?

The first big event was the solidarity mission that we undertook with the Deputy Secretary-General in DRC and Nigeria. In Nigeria, we particularly wanted to welcome, support and accompany the healing process of the Chibok girls who had been returned, while highlighting also the plight of the girls who have not returned. We were able to see that the girls were on their way to mending and healing, and that there was a lot of support from government. We left thinking that there is still more we can do. We discussed the importance of continuing to highlight the plight of the many other girls who have been captured and whom no one knows about, whose situation has not been publicized, as well as to encourage activities that will discourage the kinds of incidences that led to so many girls in their communities being abducted.

We also highlighted the fact that there is a much lower participation of women in Nigeria in Parliament, and the fact that are elections coming soon. We therefore need to work very hard to support the women in Nigeria, in order to make sure that in the next elections we have increased the number of women that are going to be represented in Parliament. So, we have started working in Nigeria with the women that we have networked with, in order to make sure that, firstly, we enable the women to stand for election, and that we also encourage women to support one another, and target parts of Nigeria where we know women stand a stronger chance to win, so that we can all rally behind those women in their constituencies. We were warmly received by the Government, by civil society, and of course also by our colleagues from the African Union and the UN.

We also visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, again in solidarity to highlight the plight of women in the DRC. On one hand, we were there to appreciate the work, especially that which has been done by Mrs. Mabunda, who is the Special Representative in the President’s Office, who has been focusing on addressing the issue of violence against women as well as children who have been abducted. We however said that even though the incidents of violence in parts of Congo were declining, the situation is still unacceptable. We happened to be there also when some very disturbing occurrences has taken place in Kasai, so it was good also to be there in solidarity with the women in that part of the country.

We visited the Parliament and we visited civil society, and we discussed the importance of passing the electoral law that will align with the Constitution and facilitate gender parity ahead of the next elections. We encouraged women to continue to register in the voters’ roll so we can increase the number of women who can vote in the next elections. We had interactions with the chairperson of the electoral commission who assured us that they would be employing women as at least 30 per cent of those working as electoral officers. We are hoping that that would also make sure that women were aware of the electoral processes so that they protected their interests. We met a vibrant group of women from all over the country, ready to run for elections. We were encouraged by that, and again we began right away to plot and plan for how we are going to support them to run, and to win.

We then went to Goma. You know Goma has a very horrible history of violence against women and we and many other institutions have been working there for the past few years. Again, we saw the resilience of the women there, despite the difficulties that they still face. We were so encouraged to see how many of the women there wanted to run for election. In their own words, they said “We want our own destiny in our own hands”. And again they were investing in a lot of activities to support the women there. But the situation is challenging. Women are still in camps as IDPs, and working as small entrepreneurs, many of them trying to survive with their families. We have to continue to support them to fight the violence that still goes on there, though not at the scale at which it once was. All in all, we were able to demonstrate the solidarity of all of you with the women of the DRC. Much more still needs to be done so that we continue to support the women and to strengthen them.

You also agreed that we should start planning how we will have a coordinated approach in supporting women to run for elections. A session has already taken place in Addis Ababa in August, so when we meet there in February next year we will be able to give you more concrete details of how we will work on the issue of elections. I must say that in Senegal we have been active, and we have supported the women who are running for elections in Senegal. We are also active in Kenya, supporting the women there. So, we are on the ball. This team is working very hard.

We also agreed that we need to make sure that we prepare ourselves for the next Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March next year—CSW62—which will focus on rural women. That is a story about and for Africa. When you go home, please let us prepare for CSW62, and make sure that the actual rural women come to participate. We are going to be asking governments to make sure that in their delegation they include young women and rural women so that they are able to participate directly in the discussions that affect their destiny.

I want to thank you for both launching the Network and for remaining interested. The next trip of the Network on a solidarity mission is to Burundi which is in two weeks. We still owe South Sudan a visit, something that we need to work towards, and next year we will organize a few more solidarity trips as well. So, we are open for business.

Thank you so much for helping us to establish the Network. Thank you AU for your leadership, and thank you Germany and Sweden for your solidarity.