UN Women Executive Director urges stronger gender focus in post-2015 MDGs

Remarks of UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the “MDG countdown 2013: Girls and women transforming societies” event in New York, 24 September 2013.


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Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to address all of you today. 

That was a very powerful film that we just saw. From Bangladesh to Indonesia to Afghanistan to every country of the world, there is one sure way to ignite progress and that is to engage and empower women and girls. 

I thank the UK Department for International Development and the US Agency for International Development for hosting this important event.

To achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we need to build on the progress made and go even further to advance women’s rights, the empowerment of women and girls, and gender equality.

Together we have reduced poverty by half – five years ahead of schedule, and cut in half the proportion of people lacking safe drinking water.

We have made significant progress towards reaching gender parity in primary school attendance. And we have cut maternal mortality by three per cent per year since 1990, saving the lives of more than 2 million women.

Yet these same successes are coupled with a sobering reminder that we have much more work to do, from now until 2015 to achieve the MDGs. Major gaps remain.

While more girls than ever before are enrolled in primary school, 31 million girls are still being left behind. And even more adolescent girls are not completing secondary school.

Today 287,000 women continue to die every year from complications of childbirth, even though most of these deaths could be prevented. 

Today only one in five members of parliament is a woman. And although more women have joined the labour force, they continue to be left behind when it comes to equal pay for equal work and equal opportunity. 

So clearly we need to accelerate progress. And to do so, there is a clear path forward. 

UN Women will continue to work with our partners to push forward to achieve the MDGs in the time we have left. In eastern Africa, UN Women is launching an information system with Airtel so that women farmers have real time information on prices and local markets, and can connect with each other for learning and support on their mobile phones. In 71 countries, we are supporting women to vote and get elected. This year an unprecedented 15 million women voted in Pakistan, and more women serve in parliament in Timor-Leste, Senegal and Kenya. Moving forward, we need to take stronger action for women’s rights and gender equality. 

While the MDGs provided a unifying framework and brought us much progress, we have learned that the focus on gender equality was too limited and not as comprehensive as it should be. I will give you just one example. Today one in three women will suffer physical or sexual violence. This is a massive human rights violation and yet ending violence against women and girls is missing from the MDGs. 

We must ensure that the new development agenda goes much, much further, that it addresses structural inequalities and gender based discrimination and makes a real difference in the lives of women and girls.

That’s why UN Women is advocating a stand-alone goal on gender equality and for gender equality to be mainstreamed across all other goals in the post-2015 development agenda.

Today I call on everyone here and all governments worldwide to ensure that women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality are prioritized in your countries, and in the post-2015 development agenda. 

I thank you for your attention and look forward to working with you!