Michelle Bachelet Statement at 2012 First Regular Session of UN Women Executive Board


Statement of Michelle Bachelet Under-Secretary- General and UN Women Executive Director at First Regular Session of UN Women Executive Board 24 January 2012.

[Check against delivery]


Distinguished Delegates,

Allow me to first wish all of you a Happy New Year. It will not surprise you to hear me say that my special hopes are for the women of this world! I hope that this year, no matter how great the challenges we all confront, will be a year when the voices of women will be heard even more.

I am pleased to be with you at this First Regular Session of the UN Women Executive Board.

Ambassador Ogwu, it is with much gratitude - and a bit of sadness - that I see you conclude your term and I would like to thank you very much for all you have done to advance our joint commitment and work.

Under your able stewardship, and with the combined efforts of your Vice-Presidents, the Board endorsed UN Women's strategic plan and institutional budget. This enabled us to move forward and to focus on the results that so many around the world are expecting from us.

The success of this Board owes much to your dedication and, indeed, your unwavering commitment to the cause of gender equality. I thank you for that.

I extend a warm welcome to you, Ambassador Kim Sook. I congratulate you on your election as the new President of this Board. I very much look forward to continuing the excellent collaboration between UN Women and the Board under your leadership.

We have a focused agenda for this session. The major item is UN Women's operational activities. I want to speak to you today about our activities within the context of our first year of operations. It's our first anniversary.

I have to say an incredible year has just been concluded. A year of excitement, high hopes and ambition.

2011 was a year of many transitions. We consolidated four previously distinct parts of the UN system into one united organization. We took steps to strengthen UN Women to meet the demands of countries to advance national priorities for gender equality.

I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to you, as members of the Executive Board, for your support and guidance. I have to thank all of my colleagues at UN Women for the passion and dedication brought to this challenge. We've come a long way.

I applaud every individual, government and organization working for women's empowerment and gender equality.

Yet we know that the task ahead is not easy. It is a task that requires fortitude, patience, and above all determination and concerted effort.

During this time of economic crisis, social upheaval and political transformation, we face both opportunities and threats to the hard-won gains achieved for women. Our challenge is not only to protect the gains, but to actively advance the rights of women.

Working in Partnership

Mr. President,

During our first year, UN Women reached out and strengthened partnerships in every region of the world. This principle of partnership underpins our business model because equality cannot be achieved by one organization. Equality depends on each and all of us.

Today UN Women is present in 75 countries to support national leadership and drive greater progress for women's empowerment and gender equality. At the core of our strategy is capacity building to strengthen the know-how of individuals, organizations and institutions to build a strong foundation for equality.

During the past year, we've benefited from an outpouring of goodwill and support and I'm proud of what we've accomplished together.

From advancing women's leadership and political participation—to expanding economic opportunities for women—to mobilizing to end violence against women and girls—to increasing women's participation in peace-building—to making sure that budgets and plans work for women, we are guided by our Strategic Plan to deliver on a promise.

I am pleased to announce that many steps were taken last year towards equality. Cambodia adopted its first Acid Violence Law to protect women from acid attacks. The sale of acid is regulated and acid throwers face harsher criminal sentences.

In Liberia, women set up justice brigades and now the level of violence against women is reduced and more perpetrators have been brought to justice.

More than 250 women in Africa and Asia are now trained as mediators to prevent conflict.

UN peacekeepers are now more focused on women's protection in areas where there are high levels of sexual violence.

In Darfur, in the first 9 months of 2011, peacekeepers conducted more than 26,000 patrols to protect women and children as they left villages and camps to collect firewood and grass.

During this same period, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 150 military and police were sentenced for rape and other acts of sexual violence.

Vietnam now has its first national programme on gender equality with a proposed budget of $46 million.

Ecuador has, for the first time, a national budget line for gender equality and women's empowerment for every Ministry.

Papua New Guinea now has a temporary special measure to increase women's representation in the Parliament.

Expanding Women's Leadership

Mr. President,

At this moment of historic change and transition, we cannot leave women out. The full participation of women expands possibilities for democracy, justice and sustainable development.

This is why UN Women provided training and supported women candidates to conduct campaigns for public office in 23 countries. In 18 of these countries, more women are now in office.

When the protests erupted in Tunisia and Tahrir Square, UN Women responded immediately by providing support for women's participation in constitutional reform, elections and political transition. I travelled four times to the region.

A Women's Charter was signed by half a million citizens in Egypt, outlining women's demands for a new way forward. Identification cards are being distributed to rural women to increase women's participation in elections in Egypt.

In October, UN Women called out for concrete proposals from governments and civil society in Arab States to support women's political participation and empowerment.

The response to our call for proposals for the Trust Fund for Gender Equality was extraordinary. We received 105 grant applications for programmes in 17 countries, representing a total request for $58.1 million dollars. We are providing $4.8 million dollars in funding to advance gender equality, women's economic empowerment and political participation in the Arab world.

I just returned from Beirut and the high-level meeting on reform and democratic transition in the Arab world, where women told me that it is difficult to make their demands heard and women are excluded from political processes.

In all regions of the world, increasing women's leadership and participation in the political arena remains an urgent challenge.

In December, the nations of the world adopted a resolution in the General Assembly, to take concrete and proactive measures to advance women's participation and leadership in politics, including in times of transition.

All of us have an obligation to take forward this important resolution.

Increasing women's economic empowerment

Mr. President,

Today more than half of working women are in vulnerable jobs that pay little, lack benefits and can disappear without warning. Gender wage gaps remain large, and balancing work and family life remains a daily struggle.

However, it is precisely now, when everyone is looking for solutions to drive economic recovery, that women's contribution needs to be unleashed.

By strengthening women's economic role, economic recovery can be faster, deeper, more sustainable and fairer. And women's rights will be advanced, and this is especially important for migrant women.

Eliminating barriers that discriminate against women in certain sectors or occupations could increase labour productivity by up to 25 percent in some countries.

In 2011, we initiated a partnership with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Programme to advance the economic empowerment of rural women.

We supported countries in removing barriers that limit women's economic participation—from providing training and skills to making laws, policies and conditions fair for women.

We urged private companies to embrace the women's empowerment principles to advance equal opportunities and women's leadership in the private sector. So far, 257 CEOs have committed to the principles and we are working to exceed our goal of 500 companies by 2015.

Throughout this year, I will make a strong case for women's economic empowerment, and UN Women will engage partners to expand economic opportunities for women.

Ending violence against women and girls

Mr. President,

Violence against women is not just a women's issue. It diminishes each and every one of us, and blocks progress towards equality.

Last year on 25 November, the International Day to end Violence against Women, I issued a policy agenda with 16 concrete steps to prevent, protect and provide essential services to end violence against women.

From enforcing laws to raising awareness, to ending impunity and providing services for survivors, we can dramatically improve our response and reduce the incidence of violence against women and girls.

All of us can play our part by advancing this agenda.

In 2011, UN Women spearheaded a global initiative to provide women and girls with universal access to critical support in situations of violence.

We expanded our work on Safe Cities for Women and Children — including our recently launched partnerships with UNICEF and UN Habitat.

We supported countries in advancing laws, policies, services and awareness; hosted the UN Secretary-General's UNiTE Campaign to End Violence against Women, and managed the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

Transition: Strengthening women's role in peace and security

Mr. President,

Distinguished Delegates,

Women are more than victims of conflict; they are leaders of peace and democracy.

This message was delivered when the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women leaders: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen.

While women pay a heavy price during conflict, they are often the first to find solutions, promote reconciliation and ensure that every voice is heard as a country rebuilds.

Yet since 1992, less than 10 percent of peace negotiators have been women; less than 6 percent of reconstruction budgets specifically provide for the needs of women and girls.

In 2011, UN Women took steps to make sure that women play a central role in peace talks, peace-building and recovery. UN Women has long been a partner to women in areas affected by conflict.

National Action Plans to advance Security Council resolution 1325 were finalized in Georgia, Indonesia, Serbia, and the United States. Women participated in international conferences to support peace and development in Afghanistan and the newest Member State, South Sudan.

Pre-deployment training was provided to UN peacekeepers to help them detect and prevent sexual violence.

In 2011, UN Women finalized a UN system-wide Strategic framework to increase coordination, monitoring and accountability across the UN system for women's participation in resolving conflict, building peace and ending sexual violence.

There is a 7-point action plan of the Secretary-General to expand women's participation in peace-building. And there is agreement across the UN system to allocate at least 15 percent of budgets for post-conflict recovery to ensure women's participation, and at least 40 percent of temporary jobs in post-conflict recovery to women.

Making budgets and plans work for women

Mr. President,

UN Women is a leading global advocate for gender-responsive budgeting and planning.

In recent years, the momentum around such budgeting has increased noticeably. This is due to advocacy and technical support, and rising understanding that eliminating inequalities in access to education, health, security, justice, and employment maximizes stability and development.

UN Women worked in 44 countries with significant achievements. Gender-responsive budget guidelines were issued by 17 ministries of finance and budget monitoring was introduced in 13 countries.

One example is Ecuador where the Ministry of Education allocated 6 percent of the budget to end violence against women and girls in schools.

In Busan, at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, governments agreed that gender equality is a fundamental principle of development effectiveness.

To drive and measure progress, UN Women launched a joint programme with the UN Statistical Division known as EDGE to mainstream gender statistics into national statistical systems.

Delivering as One for Women: Prioritizing gender equality throughout the UN system

Mr. President,

The establishment of UN Women in itself is a strong expression of UN reform to strengthen system-wide coherence.

As Member States, you have made it clear that UN Women should lead, coordinate and enhance the accountability of the UN system in its work on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

You have also decided in our founding resolution that UN Women will support gender mainstreaming across the UN System with a focus on coordination and not replication of what is already there.

Ensuring that UN Country Teams have the capacity to advance gender equality is a high priority of UN Women.

At the country level we encourage and support UN Country Teams to use performance indicators, gender score cards and gender audits.

In Albania and Uganda we supported the adoption of national indicators on the advancement of women. UN Country teams are using these indicators to hold themselves accountable for contributing to these results.

For UN Women, the experience of working in Delivering as One and self-starter countries has been invaluable. We have seen a marked improvement in the focus on gender equality, and new strategies to address country specific challenges.

It has improved coordination and partnerships with development partners. It has enhanced mutual accountability for results.

In Tanzania, for example, gender equality is a guiding principle against which key actions are monitored. Twenty percent of the UN's allocations in Tanzania for subsequent years are dependent on the delivery of progress for women's empowerment and equality.

In assessing progress, we have found a strong correlation between strong gender theme groups, supported by management, and positive change. I am happy to report that the number of gender theme groups has risen from 37 in 2004 to 106 in 2010. UN Women is engaged in more than 100 UN joint programmes.

Eight UN agencies have volunteered to pilot the new accountability framework of the System Wide Action Plan for gender equality that will soon go to the Chief Executives Board for approval. They are: UNAIDS, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, ESCWA, IAEA, OHCHR and IOM.


Mr. President,

Work on gender equality and the empowerment of women remains chronically underfunded.

UN Women was created at a time of economic stresses and austerity. Yet despite widespread budget cuts, contributions to UN Women for 2011 totaled $235 million, representing a 35 per cent increase from 2010, and our donor base has widened.

UN Women celebrates its first anniversary with some 114 governments contributing to core funds. While previously just two donors provided the majority of the funds, today half a dozen donors provide double digit contributions beyond USD $10 million.

This not only underscores the importance of our mandate, it shows a vote of confidence in UN Women. However, the 2011 resource targets were not met and quite a few Member States still need to translate their political commitment into a monetary one.

Meeting the target for the biennium 2012-2013 of US$700 million will require much intensified fundraising efforts.

For this, we will work on three fronts:

First, we need to further deepen and broaden the donor base with Government donors for core contributions.

Second, we will identity and harness new opportunities for cost-sharing resources to complement the core resource base. I am especially focused on including the two trust funds managed by UN Women:

Third, we will expand non-traditional partnerships with the private sector, foundations, and UN Women's national committees.

UN Women will continue to explore all opportunities to diversify our resource base. I would like to stress that the continued support of traditional donors remains critical to ensure the delivery of our operational work. This is especially important now as we continue to consolidate as an organization.

Mr. President,

2012 will be an active and challenging year on many fronts. It is my choice to be energized by the possibilities and opportunities that lie before us.

Just last week, I brought senior leaders from UN Women together. We all share the goal to deliver results and become the most efficient and effective organization possible.

We are now in the midst of the regional architecture review. This review also ought to improve oversight to ensure effective business practices and strengthen coherence between the normative and operational aspects of our work, and within the UN system.

This effort is aligned with my initiative to increase organizational efficiency.

Everywhere I traveled during the past year I heard demands for greater action in two substantive areas: political participation and economic empowerment, two connected priorities!

I will place a special emphasis in 2012 on advancing women's political participation and economic empowerment. UN Women will also amplify women's voices for women's full participation in sustainable development at Rio+20.

I thank you and I and my staff look forward to working with you in the year ahead.