“UN Women exists because every woman and girl should be able to envision a bright future”: Lakshmi Puri

Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Opening Statement by Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head of UN Women at the Annual Session of the Executive Board, 25 June 2013, New York

Ms. Puri delivers her opening statement to the 2013 Annual session of the Executive Board on 25 June, 2013. Photo credit: UN Women
Ms. Puri delivers her opening statement to the 2013 Annual session of the Executive Board on 25 June, 2013. Photo credit: UN Women

Mr. President,
Members of the Board,
Distinguished Delegates,
Colleagues and friends,


Good morning!

It is my pleasure to address you today. It is wonderful to see all of you here.

This is an important session of this Executive Board –we will look at both the past and the future, at what UN Women has achieved in the past year, our major results and how we have strengthened as an institution. We will also look at where we will go from here, with an updated Strategic Plan, at the 20-year anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action and towards the post-2015 development agenda.

As always, we look forward to benefiting from your guidance and advice as our committed Board members.

Today all over the world, women and girls have rising aspirations and expectations. They want to reach new heights. They want equal rights and opportunities and equal participation.

I was watching the news last Friday and saw an image that resonated with me. It was Chinese astronaut, Wang Yaping, giving a physics demonstration live from outer space to 60 million students. She is the most recent woman in orbit, following more than 50 others who have soared into the universe. Last week NASA announced that half of their new astronaut recruits are women.

We have come a long way from 50 years ago when the first woman, Russian Valentina Tereshkova, made the first flight to outer space. We also recently witnessed other firsts for women, the first Saudi woman, Pakistani woman, and Indian women twins to climb the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest.

But while we see rising awareness, skyrocketing expectations and achievements, we also see a great divide between what millions of women and girls want and what they experience in their daily lives. While some women fly into outer space or climb the world’s highest peaks, others can’t even go to school. While some women can explore the universe, others can’t even explore, let alone reach, their own potential.

This is why UN Women was created. So that every woman can enjoy equal opportunity, live free of discrimination and violence, and realize her potential.

We are very proud of the results that we have achieved, and how far we have come in a relatively short period of time. And we are focused on consolidating gains and building on momentum to make greater progress for gender equality and for the empowerment of women.

Progress in Implementing the Strategic Plan

Mr. President,

Since we last met in January, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) adopted historic agreed conclusions at its 57th session. This outcome, on such a critical theme as ending violence against women, is an unqualified success for the gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda.

The text is progressive and forward-looking and commits Member States to actions that were never before so explicitly articulated in international documents. I thank you and your governments for standing strong for women’s rights and working together towards this consensus.

UN Women played a central role in preparing for the CSW. We strategically and systematically worked with a wide range of partners to ensure a successful outcome… from the Stakeholders’ Forum to high-level regional meetings… from partnerships with civil society, the UN system and other organizations, such as OECD, La Francophonie, and the Council of Europe to mobilization of Permanent Representatives in New York… to the COMMIT initiative. The level, scale and depth of preparations, substantively and in terms of advocacy, mobilization and partnership building, were unprecedented.

This process brought credit to UN Women, especially in terms of our value-added in the establishment and strengthening of international norms and standards. It also demonstrated the strong linkage between our normative and operational work.

But as we all know, the adoption of agreed conclusions is not the destination but a departure point for driving change. I have asked regional and country offices to support partners in transforming agreed conclusions into action at national and regional levels. Some regions have already drafted action plans and others are in the process of doing so.

We are developing specific proposals to fund the implementation of agreed conclusions and to raise resources for preparations for the next session of the CSW and I call on you to support them. This has been pursued and has progressed during my visits this year to Ethiopia, Finland, Brussels and the European Union, Spain, Japan, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea.

We have taken full advantage of our intergovernmental support functions, as well as our advocacy role, to break new ground across sectors. Such examples include the breakthrough at COP-18 on gender balance in climate change negotiations; the adoption for the first time ever of a resolution in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly on women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control; and gender-specific language in resolutions on trade and development, agricultural development, migration, and sustainable development.

Our engagement was also instrumental in ensuring a strong focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review on operational activities of the UN system. It acknowledges the centrality of gender equality in sustainable development, affirms UN Women’s system-wide role, and requests the UN system to roll out specific accountability mechanisms, such as the System-Wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (SWAP) and the gender marker.

We have delivered on our role of leading, coordinating and promoting the accountability of the United Nations system in its work on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The SWAP is being rolled out across the UN system. So far we have reporting by more than 55 United Nations entities, departments and offices—using 15 common performance standards.

Mr. President,

Many of you have praised us for the progress we were able to achieve in strengthening our institution in a relatively short period of time. We are not merely the sum of the four original entities, but we have added value through our consolidation, reduction of duplication and fragmentation. And we have done this while achieving results at the same time.

Throughout 2012, we finalized our regional architecture and put in place the foundations for our new field structure, strengthening our country presence and decentralizing decision making with delegation of authority to field offices.

We began 2012 with 17 offices with full representation and programme presence in over 50 countries. By the end of the year, the number of offices with full representation had grown to 54, comprising 48 country offices and 6 multi-country offices.

UN Women also established three new regional offices in 2012, two more have already been established in 2013 and the remaining one regional office will be established later this year. The new regional architecture allows us to deliver better in countries. We will provide you with a full update on the regional architecture today at 1:30.

We have transformed UN Women into a strong organization with a strategic focus on eliminating the greatest barriers to gender equality and achieving development results through the inclusion of women and girls. In a letter to us, one Member State has labeled UN Women “a success story” that “can serve as a model for other UN agencies.” We are thankful for these expressions of support that drive us to improve even further.

We continue to build strong partnerships for action. We are the 11th co-sponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). And we have joined the Health Four Plus to contribute to the Secretary General’s global strategy on women and children’s health, the Secretary-General’s education first initiative, and his initiative for sustainable energy for all. UN Women also signed memoranda of understanding with the UN Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat).

Our institutional relationship with civil society is becoming stronger. We established the Global Civil Society Advisory Group in May 2012, regional and sub-regional groups in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific and Central and South-Eastern Europe, bringing the total number of groups to more than 20, with plans to reach approximately 50 by the end of year. This is part of our pioneering approach in opening up spaces for civil society representatives to participate in and contribute to the work of the United Nations.

Mr. President,

Our institutional strengthening has been key in increasing our capacity to deliver results. During the past year, we delivered direct programmatic support in 87 countries and recorded major achievements in all priority areas.

To advance women’s participation and leadership, UN Women provided support to 71 countries in 2012, including support of temporary special measures, and for constitutional, legal and electoral reform, so more women can vote and get elected. The capacity of women candidates and political leaders was strengthened at the national and local levels in 24 countries.

In Zimbabwe, a new constitution was just signed into law last month that is strong on women’s rights and had received broad support in a national referendum. In Algeria, women’s representation in Parliament quadrupled from 8 to 31 per cent. In Senegal, the percentage of women in parliament doubled from 22 to 43 per cent.

In Pakistan, UN Women supported women’s voting registration. The National Database and Registration Authority registered more than 40 million women, representing 86 per cent of the female population, rising from 44 per cent four years earlier.

In Papua New Guinea, UN Women launched the “Know your woman candidate” campaign and the election saw a record 135 women nominated as candidates, compared with 101 in 2007.

In India, UN Women partnered with local civil society organizations to train local, elected women representatives. We created a regional centre for excellence to train 65,000 elected women representatives of local government institutions in 16 districts across five States.

To enhance women’s economic empowerment, UN Women provided support to 67 countries. Policies were strengthened to protect the most economically vulnerable and to guarantee women’s equal access to productive assets, decent work and social protection, to secure women’s property, land and inheritance rights, and to support entrepreneurship.

In Bolivia, 5,000 indigenous women entrepreneurs obtained over USD $4 million as seed capital, resulting in a 50 per cent increase in their revenues. And 292 companies in 17 countries signed the UN Women Women’s Empowerment Principles on corporate social responsibility for gender equality in 2012, bringing the total number to 594 companies.

To end violence against women, UN Women provided support to 85 countries in 2012. As a result, national action plans were approved in six countries and legislation on violence was passed in 15 countries.

UN Women supported one-stop centers and shelters for survivors of violence in 11 countries and improved police capacity to respond in six countries.

In partnership with UN-Habitat and UNICEF, our Safe Cities initiatives continue to grow, building partnerships in more than 20 cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Quito and our newest partner city, Dublin, with the goal to reach 40 cities by 2017.

Our global advocacy campaign, Say NO—UNiTE to End Violence against Women, recorded over 2 million additional actions taken by individuals to address violence and attracted over 200 new civil society partners in 2012. We continued to manage the Secretary-General’s UNITE campaign to end violence against women with advocacy, mobilization, legal and policy change and services being provided in all regions.

The COMMIT initiative UN Women, launched last year, has prompted 58 countries, so far, from every region to make concrete pledges to take action to end violence against women.

And innovative and life-saving programmes are constantly being piloted and supported by The United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. In 2012, $USD 8.4 million in new grants were awarded to 12 initiatives in 19 countries, which are expected to benefit nearly 1 million people by 2015.

To increase women’s role in peace and security, UN Women provided support to 37 countries with 15 of these countries working on national action plans for Security Council resolution 1325. The percentage of peace agreements with specific provisions to improve security and the status of women and girls is increasing, reaching 22 per cent in 2012.

We placed a strong focus on post-conflict elections. In Libya, the electoral commission adopted a gender quota for the first post-conflict elections in 2012, resulting in 32 women winning parliamentary seats. In Timor-Leste, the percentage of women in parliament increased from 29 to 38 per cent in 2012. The proportion of women candidates in political parties also increased from 25 to 36 per cent.

In 2012, UN Women supported constitutional reform in five countries that experienced transitions. In South Sudan, a presidential decree appointed 15 women to the National Constitutional Review Commission, representing 27 per cent of all members, more than required by the quota legislated in 2011.

Justice experts were trained in investigating gender-based crimes under international law and placed on a new UN Women roster for rapid deployment. Their presence in the independent international commissions of inquiry on Libya and on the Syrian Arab Republic resulted in the documentation of conflict-related crimes against women.

Recently I attended a conference on the Sahel to support the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Romano Prodi, to address the multiple humanitarian, political, security and environmental crises across that region. The conference was co-organized with the European Union and brought together 40 women from the Sahel.

We also supported women’s engagement in the subsequent Mali donors’ conference to ensure that women’s rights and participation are made a priority in the conflict resolution and recovery process there. We are actively engaged in supporting women’s rights, participation and access to justice, in the Great Lakes region, in Mali, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and other countries. For the Great Lakes region, for example, we have offered to provide the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Mary Robinson, with an advisor on gender and mediation.

In all such situations, UN Women’s approach is to enhance women’s leadership and voice, and the capacity and influence of their organizations in setting women’s priorities and supporting national authorities to respond to their needs. In addition, we address improved protection through training of peacekeepers and national security personnel and we support women’s access to transitional justice, so that the truth is told about abuses of women’s rights and perpetrators do not enjoy impunity.

In 2012, UN Women supported 65 countries to introduce or strengthen a gender perspective in their national, sectoral and local development plans, budgets and performance-monitoring frameworks. In this priority area, we have met or exceeded our goals on all of the indicators.

Systems to track public allocations for gender equality and the empowerment of women were strengthened in 18 countries. Increases in budget allocations for gender equality at the national and/or local levels were reported in five nations, Ecuador, Mexico, Nepal, Uruguay and Zimbabwe, with a total allocation of more than USD $2.6 billion.

Mr. President,

In 2012, we also made significant progress in strengthening our evaluation function. The Evaluation Policy you adopted last year provides us with a clear framework to strengthen our capacity in this area and contribute to results-based management, organizational transparency, learning and accountability.

Management sees evaluation as a strong tool to guide strategy and above all for programming, capacity strengthening at national level, and enhancing programme quality.

We have consolidated corporate and decentralized evaluation systems, developed a global tracking system, and improved our track record in ensuring that all evaluations include a management response. We are instituting a quality assurance system to ensure that offices have the adequate resources, both financial and human, to carry out the evaluation plan.

We have also played a prominent role in United Nations system-wide coordination and knowledge management on gender-responsive evaluation. We expanded the portal on evaluation of gender equality, engaged in joint evaluation and innovative partnerships such as EvalPartners, and promoted use of SWAP evaluation indicators.

Updated Strategic Plan 2014-2017

Mr. President,

We are proud of the results we have achieved and we look forward to building on them as we update our Strategic Plan for 2014-2017. As you know, our Strategic Plan, adopted only two years ago, included goals and results to 2017. In approving the Strategic Plan, the Board asked UN Women to refine the development results framework to better align outcomes and outputs, and strengthen the indicators, baselines and targets for this 2013 Annual Session.

In January and at the April informal, you welcomed the approach of tuning up, rather than overhauling, our Strategic Plan since the direction and priorities remain fully relevant. This has been a consultative process and we appreciate your engagement, advice, and guidance.

The draft update before you maintains the six priority areas of our current Strategic Plan and includes updates based on lessons learned from the past two years. We have retained the structure of the narrative, updating it to reflect key developments within and external to UN Women, as well as lessons learned including from evaluation findings.

The update reflects mandates and perspectives emanating from the QCPR, the Rio+20 commitments, CSW 57, the UN-SWAP, and other key developments, such as the post-2015 development agenda and Beijing+20. It includes common interagency language on approaches and coordination, and reflects the UN Development Group’s “five programming principles”.

This updated Strategic Plan fully reflects our unique mandate combining normative intergovernmental, coordination, and operational with our knowledge and policy hub, as well as strategic partnerships and advocacy functions.

It also reflects implementation of the regional architecture and our strengthened country presence which is critical to support UN Country Teams and the Resident Coordinator system.

The results frameworks are simplified and measureable. They align with the Strategic Framework 2014-2015. Development results better link outputs to outcomes, which have been reduced from 29 to 17. New outputs reflect our experience to date, new intergovernmental standards, and your inputs and guidance.

In our work, we are guided by the principles of strengthening capacity, responding to demand, promoting inclusiveness, including the role of men and boys, focusing on the poorest and most excluded, and promoting sustainable development, highlighting our universal mandate.

Organizational effectiveness and efficiency results have been updated in line with the principles of the QCPR, and reflect increased emphasis in areas such as communications and our role as a knowledge hub. They cover four key areas. First, more effective and efficient UN system coordination and strategic partnerships; second, a strong culture of results-based management, reporting, knowledge management and evaluation; third, enhanced operational effectiveness with a focus on robust capacity and efficiency at country and regional levels; and fourth, leveraging and managing resources for better delivery of results.

This updated Strategic Plan will allow UN Women to take full advantage of new developments at the global level and of our strengthened presence in the field. We look forward to our discussions at this session, which will allow us to refine our draft for your expected approval at the Second Regular session in September.

Draft Integrated Budget 2014-2015

At this session, as requested, we are also presenting an informal draft integrated budget for 2014-2015. We look forward to discussing this tomorrow.

The integrated budget seeks to consolidate the existing structure already approved by the Board and to support the implementation of the Strategic Plan in achieving its results. Our proposal is for an appropriation of USD $174.9 million. This represents an increase of USD $27 million compared to the restated budget from the last biennium. This increase is mainly due to full implementation of the approved post table and regional architecture, plus the inclusion of non-discretionary costs and increases.

Clearly, the implementation of the budget will also depend heavily on resources UN Women receives.


Mr. President,

Despite challenges we have encountered in mobilizing resources, we are confident that the tide is turning. We have received funding during our first two years in our start-up phase as a sign of support of our important mandate. Today I call on Board members and all UN Member States to increase funding in recognition of our strong performance and the results we are achieving as a force multiplier for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

At this time, we have almost 90 pledges of contributions whereas last year we had only reached that number in November.

Furthermore, Mr. President- and we will go into more detail during the pledging event tomorrow, I see a genuine effort by quite a few Member States to become double-digit donors, contributing beyond the USD $10-million benchmark.

When we were established almost three years ago, we had only two countries in that category (Spain & Norway) and for the current year we already have four countries reaching that level (Australia, Canada, Norway and the UK). We expect more and more countries contributing in the 10 million, 20 million and higher categories.

This is good news because when we have 10 to 15 countries supporting us at that level, UN Women will have increased stability and approach the minimum critical mass of resources we need.

In 2012, core contributions increased from six of the top 10 UN Women donors (Australia, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and the United States of America). Overall, 33 Member States provided increased core contributions, with one third being multi-year pledges. The donor base was also broadened.

We are reaching out and gaining support from non-traditional donors, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Korea, China, India, Nigeria and other countries.

Our top ten core donors last year were the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United States, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

While a critical mass of core resources is necessary, non-core resources are also needed and much welcome. Our top ten non-core donors in 2012 were Sweden, Norway, Australia, Netherlands, Canada, European Commission, Germany, Finland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Eighteen UN Women national committees contributed nearly USD $1 million to the organization. And we increased our private-sector outreach, working with such partners as Coca-Cola, the Loomba Foundation, Microsoft, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Women’s Self-Worth Foundation and Zonta International. UN Women received over USD $5 million from those sources in 2012 and will build on those partnerships in the coming year.

But none of these gains could compensate for the loss of nearly USD $28-million in core resources, a 9 per cent drop in resources compared to 2011.

There is no doubt that one cannot shrink an organization to greatness, especially a new one. We need a robust budget backed by adequate income to deliver the results expected of us. We continue to rely on Government support, and appreciate and look forward to greater contributions.

The strong political commitment that you have given to UN Women needs to be translated into strong financial support.

I cannot overstate the importance of early pledges, followed by early payments. It is time to frontload contributions to UN Women. I want to thank all countries that have made early pledges and payments and encourage others to do so.

Beijing+20 and the post-2015 development agenda

Mr. President,

There are important processes under way for the future of global development in which UN Women is fully engaged.

A step forward was taken at the CSW where a resolution was adopted on the 20-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action.

UN Women will play a key role in coordinating the Beijing+20 process.

We have identified several objectives for Beijing+20. First, we need to ensure broad recommitment to the Beijing Platform for Action and accelerate its implementation. Together we need to mobilize political energy and commitment and fire-up a whole new generation of women and girls and also men and boys, and stronger youth engagement for gender equality. And we need to take full advantage of new technologies and social media. Second, we need use this opportunity to raise awareness about and raise resources for the gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda and for UN Women. Third, we need to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment feature prominently in the post-2015 development framework.

We are already working hard towards this end. UN Women was pleased to see a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and a strong focus on ending violence against women in the report of the High-Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda. We welcome the emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, the target to ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the assertion that gender perspectives must be mainstreamed into all other areas. This is exactly what UN Women has been advocating.

Moving forward, UN Women would like to see greater attention to addressing the structural constraints to gender equality. We would also like to see some other significant gender equality issues be addressed substantively, such as women in decision-making, and women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care and household work.

We have produced a paper to elaborate our proposed gender equality goal, which I sent to all Permanent Missions, and I am pleased to announce that a long version of this paper is now available on our website.

The paper makes the case for focus in three critical areas:

  • First, freedom from violence is an absolute minimum condition to promote gender equality and women’s rights.
  • Second, we must ensure women’s capabilities, bodily integrity and access to resources so that women can make meaningful choices about what to do and be in their lives.
  • Finally, we have to ensure women have a voice and participate in the processes and institutions that shape public policies, and household and private sector decisions.

We will continue to work with all of you, with civil society and with all stakeholders in the context of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and in all other processes related to the post-2015 development agenda.

It is time to move women from the sidelines to the centre of global development. I call on all of you to be strong advocates for a gender equality goal and for gender mainstreaming in all other areas.


Mr. President,

Even though gender equality and women’s empowerment are not products that can be stored in a warehouse and shipped to people in need, there is a tremendous demand for our support and expertise worldwide. This applies to the prevention of violence against women and girls but equally to the areas of economic and political empowerment and promoting women’s rights in times of peace, conflict and transition.

We are making a difference, and the results we have achieved so far are encouraging. But we want, and are being asked to do more, much more. It is my strong belief that unless we have a leap in financial support, we cannot reach the potential that you want us to reach.

I began my remarks talking about how some women have reached the final frontier. And I am reminded of what the first US astronaut Sally Ride said when asked about outer space. She said, “the stars don’t look bigger, but they do look brighter.”

UN Women exists because every woman and girl in the world, no matter where she lives, should be able to see bright stars, and envision a bright future.

Women and girls deserve nothing less, they are counting on us, and we cannot fail them.

I thank you and I look forward to our discussions.