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UN Women Executive Director concludes Stakeholder's Forum with high expectations for progress towards gender equality

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Closing remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at Stakeholder's Forum on "Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls: The road ahead."

Date: 05 December 2013

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Honourable Ministers and Ambassadors, 
Distinguished Delegates,
Leaders from Civil Society, 
Colleagues from the UN system and friends,

I am very pleased to join you for this closing session of the UN Women Stakeholders Forum. 

This has been an important meeting for all of us. I thank each one of you for taking the time to look at where we stand, and where we are going to accelerate achievement of the MDGs for women and girls.

Together we must take the necessary steps to make a real difference for women and girls in the remaining months to the 2015 target date for the MDGs.  

With the review of the MDGs as our theme and focus at the 58th Commission on the Status of Women, we need to link up the efforts of the:

  • MDG  Review  and Appraisal,
  • The Beijing+20 review and appraisal, and 
  • The elaboration of the post-2015 development framework.  

We must ensure these processes are not exclusive but reinforce each other. The lessons learned from the reviews of  Beijing+20 and the MDGs must inform  the post -2015  development goals , in particular our proposed  one  goal for women’s empowerment and gender equality. 

CSW58 therefore has a particularly heavy responsibility – not only to work for a strong outcome to accelerate MDG achievement, but to kick-start and connect effectively to the Beijing+20 and post-2015 processes.

In the 19th century   the world and countries defeated slavery.

In the 20th century the world and countries ended colonialism.

In the 21st century, the world must and can put an end to discrimination of women and girls.  

We must be bold, ambitious and change the lives of women and girls forever.  

We have made progress since the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, and since the adoption of the Millennium Declaration.  

But there have been obstacles and setbacks – some linked to broader political, economic or societal trends, and some grounded in expectations and stereotypes linked to women’s and men’s roles, rights and responsibilities.  

Yesterday and today you articulated the challenges and opportunities from South Africa to Burkina Faso, Mexico to Japan, Europe and Middle East. 

We have seen the dynamics in negotiations within the United Nations, at CSW 57 earlier this year, and now in the General Assembly. 

Together we must protect hard won gains and make further progress. 

What we now have to do is to put ourselves, once and for all, on a path of irreversible progress. 

Member States have made extensive commitments to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls, and to achieve gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment.

We need a clear trajectory towards achieving women’s rights, equality and empowerment, within our lifetime in this century, and the sooner the better.

The events that will converge in 2015, that I have alluded to, represent an opportunity of a century. We cannot miss the opportunity that history has thrust on us as leaders of civil society, women, representatives of nations, and as men and boys.

At this Forum, we heard that the MDGs have not addressed the structural drivers of gender inequality. Women and girls are still held back by unpaid care work, by the violence that is committed against them, and by the denial of sexual and reproductive rights. Today 1 in 3 women worldwide are destined to experience violence and all of us need to take stronger action.

These barriers hold women back from participating fully in public life. They impede progress on achieving all the MDGs. And they stymie overall progress of society and nations. 

We now have enough evidence, some of it eloquently argued by Norway and others, that if we invest in women, we create far reaching social and economic progress and freedom for all, from generation to generation. Investing in women is a smart thing to do.

We know that it is not just a gender gap that is blocking progress; it is also a gap between laws and implementation. A key challenge is the impact of the broader macro-economic environment for gender equality as shown by the recent crisis and the institution of austerity measures and their negative impact on women. There is also conflict and climate change. My deputy John Hendra in his summary captured some of the salient features in this regard.

We know that increasing women’s participation at all levels is vital to achieving the MDGs. Progress is being made in the increasing representation of women, and we have learnt that affirmative action and quotas do work. 

What are we to do next?

  • We ask you to come to CSW prepared to ensure that lessons learnt are shared and take us forward to 2015 to achieve the MDGs.
  • Take forward the review of Beijing+20 and discuss the content for post 2015, which will inform the one goal for women, plus mainstreaming of women’s issues in all other goals.
  • As Ms. Puri said from March 2014 to 2015, we ask you at national and regional level to review the achievements of Beijing+20 with hindsight of the review of MDGs. But please do not split hairs where not needed so that in March 2015 we have  the content to share with the world, intergenerational leaders of women, from those who were in Beijing to the generation of Malala and younger, and with men and boys.
  • Define for your country and the world how we will make post-2015 a game changer for women and girls anywhere and everywhere in the world. Put yourself in the shoes of women who experience violence, hunger and who are not heard.

Women’s voices and experiences need to shape every aspect of policy-making, including democracy, rule of law, good governance, and social sectors including education and health, and the economy.

Perhaps one of the most important insights from the MDG experience is that gender equality cannot be achieved with a narrow or partial focus on particular aspects.  If we are to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, we must work in a comprehensive approach, at all levels.  

Governments have made commitments; they have assumed legally binding obligations. The global framework is in place. It is up to political leaders, to policy makers, to advocates and those who demand accountability to ensure compliance.  We need to win hearts and minds for these agreements to matter; we need leaders to be engaged in making the change happen.

And we need high quality data on gender equality, which is critical.

Gender mainstreaming in all sectors by all actors at all levels is needed to drive change for all goals. This means we have to look beyond the ‘typical’ gender equality policy areas to areas such as transportation, fossil fuels, climate change and water and sanitation, participation and contribution of all stakeholders is critical.

Achieving gender equality is not the responsibility of women; it is the responsibility of all of us, all sectors of society.

We are grateful to all the UN agencies all of who pay significant attention to the women’s agenda and bring their considerable expertise to the work.

We encourage cooperation with our field offices who are our front liners, who are in all parts of the world supporting civil society and our member States, and increasingly the private sector, and men and boys.  

Gender equality has to be adequately financed as a macro-economic challenge, not a small change item, if the gender gap is to be closed. The excessive funding gap adequately presented by AWID (Association of Women’s Rights in Development) has to be closed.

Women are half of the world population with the greatest problems of the world. Financial resources allocated must reflect that reality and must be a subject in the post 2015 agenda as a critical means, so is investment in knowledge and information technology.

Next March, when we meet at the Commission on the Status of Women, we have to achieve an outcome that will accelerate progress for women and girls towards the MDGs. 

We will send a strong and clear message that the post-2015 development framework must define what must be an achievement of this century by the world.

Expectations are high, and they should be. CSW is a process driven by the UN Member States, with the involvement of civil society. And UN-Women and our sister agencies are here to fully support you. 

We have organized this preparatory stakeholder forum so that we can plan together and gather momentum. I thank you for coming and for presenting us both progress and challenges. Regional events are being planned that will help in bringing to the table more specific and concrete experiences and expectations.  

Together, we have to make a difference so that the 21st century is the century for women.