Remarks by UN Women Executive Director at the second Eurasian Women’s Forum

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the second Eurasian Women’s Forum Opening Ceremony, "Women for Global Security and Sustainable Development" in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Date: Friday, September 21, 2018

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It is a pleasure to be with you in Saint Petersburg. I thank the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation and the Interparliamentary Assembly of Member Nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States for organizing this important Forum.

In 1995, 189 nations met in Beijing and adopted the most comprehensive agreement on gender equality and women’s rights to date. I suspect there are many in this room today who were there. We had hoped that by the year 2000 most of the goals set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action would have already been achieved. But alas, we now know that achieving these goals is much harder than we thought. But we refuse to think it is impossible.

Since then, we have seen progress on girls’ education and maternal health, a record number of laws being passed to support gender equality, women’s leadership growing in all fields, stronger institutional mechanisms for gender equality, brave women’s human rights defenders fighting for climate justice, and a clear understanding that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights. There are more voices than ever mobilizing to end violence against women and girls.

But to date, no country has achieved gender equality. We have also seen progress that is too slow and gains that have been eroded. There have been too many missed opportunities for big, bold, ambitious steps that could impact the billions of women who need change—instead of impacting hundreds or millions, which is insufficient to achieve critical mass.

Change has to be systemic and transformative, and it must be change that will last. Our roadmap has to be about focusing on changes that are sustainable. 

The year 2020 is 25 years after Beijing, and five years into implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which represent a bold and comprehensive agenda for 2030. At that point, 2020, we want already to see real progress for women.

This is possible as the SDGs critically recognize that women’s participation is key for global security and sustainable development. All of the SDGs—from Goal 1 on poverty to Goal 17 on partnerships—depend on gender equality, and vice versa.

They include interlinked targets to address key structural barriers, such as discriminatory laws, violence against women and girls, unpaid care work, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as emerging challenges like climate change, the backlash against women’s rights and the shrinking space for civil society, growing militarism and violent conflict.

The potential of the 2030 Agenda is tremendous. But UN Women’s SDG monitoring report, Turning Promises into Action shows a mixed picture of progress that may not yet reach all the women and girls who need it most.

Right now, globally: the gender pay gap stands at 23 per cent, there are 4.4 million more women than men living on less than USD 1.90 a day, women’s representation in national parliaments stands at just 23.7 per cent, and 1 in 5 women and girls have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last 12 months.

We know that these issues can be further exacerbated by situations of conflict and crisis. But also, that women are vital peace-makers and peace-builders. With women at the table, there is a 35 per cent increase in the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least 15 years. And women are the best buffer against radicalization and violent extremism.

That is why women’s participation in all spheres of life is key to progress. And why I am pleased to see women leaders from so many different sectors with us today.

Some of the most significant gaps to achieving the SDGs for women and girls are in the area of unpaid care work. On average, women do 2.6 times the unpaid care and domestic work done by men. In some parts of the Europe and Central Asia region, the difference increases to 8 times that of men. This prevents women from engaging in educational, income generating and leadership activities. It also perpetrates cycles of poverty. The report shows that the largest gender gaps occur amongst women aged 25-34– prime child-bearing years—who are 22 per cent more likely than men to live in extreme poverty.

Even in societies, like many here in the region, where women participate actively in the labour market, their care duties at home prevent them from achieving full equality. This represents a “motherhood penalty” where women are segregated into lower-paying jobs and have significantly lower lifetime earnings.

To address this we need to recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care. That means governments, businesses and societies recognizing the impact of unpaid care work by building it into economic measures and social protection schemes. And public policies that reduce care through investments in quality, accessible care services and infrastructure.

It also means men stepping up to help redistribute care. Men who take on responsibility for caring for their children help mitigate the impact of the ‘motherhood penalty’. A study found that for every month fathers take paternity leave, the mother’s earnings increase by 6.7 per cent. This is also crucial to changing attitudes about gender roles. Better support for care work is needed, including affordable and accessible child care - which is also a massive source of decent jobs for women. At the next Commission on the Status of Women, governments will look into these issues and consider how social protection and infrastructure can better support billions of women.

And equality has a positive impact on fertility rates. Contrary to common belief, extensive studies show that in more gender-equal societies, the fertility rate actually increases. Before becoming mothers, women must be confident that they can share care duties equally with their partners and be supported by social infrastructure. This is particularly relevant for this region, where fertility rates are low.

This requires addressing social norms and gender stereotypes that prevent women from achieving their full potential. This includes progressive family policies that support all family members and go beyond a traditional vision of gender roles in the family.

There is much to build on. The region has strong legal frameworks for gender equality. But implementation is lagging behind and is subject to reversal. Particular attention must be paid to ending violence against women and girls—something which continues to plague all countries around the world.

In Moldova, 63 per cent of women experienced some type of violence from their husband/partner during their lifetime—far above the global average. Kyrgyzstan has one of the highest intentional female homicides per 100,000 population, in Central and Southern Asia.

We cannot relegate gender-based violence to a private, domestic matter or backslide in legal protections for survivors and punishment for perpetrators. All forms of violence against women, including marital rape and other forms of domestic violence, must be criminalized with appropriately serious penalties. There was a time when “domestic violence” was not a crime in most countries. Not anymore.

We are seeing positive momentum in the region. Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Moldova recently adopted or amended laws to combat domestic violence, and Uzbekistan committed to draft a law to prevent domestic violence by the end of this year. Access to justice has provided redress to victims of domestic abuse. And in Kazakhstan, we saw the power of the NeMolchi (Don’t Keep Silent) movement started by Dina Smailova, a survivor of sexual violence, who joined our Global Goals World Cup team last year.

Thanks to movements like this one and #MeToo, the world is standing up against the unequal power structures that have allowed perpetrators of violence to operate with impunity for too long. We can stop this impunity by ensuring there are consequences for perpetrators and by training law enforcement officials to understand and deal better with crimes against women.

The challenges that I have mentioned deserve our collective attention. If we address them, as proposed in the SDGs, and learn from the lessons of past decades, we can make considerable progress. Our efforts have to be targeted or they may not reach the women and girls who need them most.

The SDGs must live up to their promises. They benefit People, by leaving no one behind; they bring Prosperity, with inclusive growth through the participation of men and women; they protect our Planet, with climate-smart low-carbon lifestyles; and foster Peace, requiring nations and people to address critical current issues, such as violent extremism and harmful populism that are detrimental to all. 

Now, more than ever, we must continue our momentum toward achieving these goals. But we need to be united and decisive. We must use the powers and possibilities we have, not waste them.

We must act on the present unequal participation of women and aim for parity long before 2030. Let us get to 30 per cent by 2020. We can use laws and advocacy to achieve this.

Let us take action to end economic discrimination, address unequal pay and unpaid care work. Women’s economic participation everywhere is critical, in both the formal and informal economies, as entrepreneurs and professionals. Increasing women’s engagement in the economy to equal that of men could add more than $12 trillion to the world economy by 2025.

Let us take steps to end violence, to prevent it ever happening, and never to tolerate it at home and at work. And let us also remember the women in conflict areas, where their suffering is disproportionate.

We invite men to become ‘HeForShe’, to use their powers to end gender inequalities, and to end discrimination against people living with disabilities, against youth and against other minorities. 

And let’s be clear — women are not a minority.

In 2020, we must mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on a much stronger footing. Next year, in 2019, we will review the progress made in all countries, with reports to be presented in 2020. We need governments, parliaments, civil society and private sector to contribute to these reports.

We have to be clear about how we will bring about the changes envisaged in Beijing, and in the 2030 Agenda’s SDGs.

We ask you to take on this fight of your lifetime, to save humanity and to serve women and girls.

No country has achieved gender equality. But it is possible.

I look forward to positive, concrete and bold contributions from this forum towards 2020 and 2030.

Thank you.

Planet 50–50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality