“Together, I believe we can be game-changers” – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Opening statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the Second Regular Session of the UN Women Executive Board, New York, 16 September 2013.


[Check against delivery]

Mr. President, Members of the Executive Board, Ladies and Gentleman, Good morning!

I am very happy to be here with you today. I am grateful for the opportunity and honour to serve the women and girls of the world.

I am proud of the work we are doing as UN Women together with you, as seen on the screens in this room.

Addressing you for the first time today is also an important milestone for me, a first step in what I expect to be a journey that is highly collaborative, challenging and, most of all, meaningful to women and girls, especially the most vulnerable.

We have a proverb in Africa, that some of you may know, which captures how I prefer to engage in the complex matters of public service. It says:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

I am about to join you on a journey that is taking us towards a day when violence and discrimination against women and girls will neither be commonplace nor tolerated.

I look forward to working closely with you—as  board members, as Member States, as civil society, the private sector, the UN system, and my team at UN Women. Just as you made the creation of UN Women a political priority, I now ask you to make our funding a priority.

Together we are moving on the path paved by you and by my predecessor, the founding Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet. I am truly grateful for her leadership and the strong foundation she laid for UN Women.

She has built a strong foundation for UN Women and nurtured the organization.

Under her leadership, the United Nations scored a victory on ending violence against women at the last session of the Commission on the Status of Women. She built strong partnerships around the world. And she raised the issue of women’s equality to the highest political levels.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I have learned from my previous jobs where public policy was involved, that if a policy that is meant for all citizens works well for women, it will work for everyone. Which means, if we target and engage women, we also target the nation and we have a higher possibility for universal outreach – with women being 50 per cent of those who must be reached by public policy in all countries.

We also know that when policies or programmes are gender-blind, even if they are meant to benefit everybody, the benefits for women are by no means guaranteed. 

We see this in all countries, for example when it comes to economic opportunity. To this day, a wage gap persists between women and men at all levels, even when equality is guaranteed in the national constitution. That is why our work as UN Women and that of other supporters of women is critical. It enables us to bridge the gap and facilitate equal access to public goods and justice.

It is to the credit of your Governments, the Member States of the United Nations, and the backing and advocacy of civil society, that UN Women was created to lead global efforts to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment,in a targeted, measured and systematic manner.

The strategic plan that is in front of you today is an important contribution to the task of closing the gender gap in a measured, systematic and targeted manner.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates, 

My experience of working with civil society, political parties and faith-based organizations has taught me the importance of working in an inclusive manner and listening to the people one works with and for. In our context, it is you, the Member States, the civil society organizations, who have who often convey the views of women at the grassroots level and the women themselves whose direct voices we must hear. All of this is very important for UN Women.

This inclusive approach guided me as a Member of Parliament, and when I was part of my Government. I have seen the benefits of listening to stakeholders and affected parties. 

While working with the private sector, I learnt the importance of the use of both legislation and the power of persuasion when pushing for the private sector to buy into women’s equal opportunity and advancement. 

When working at a global scale and at a distance and with different partners, clear performance indicators are important. And I will make sure that we use the agreed indicators to show the impact of what we do for women.

I also learnt the importance of departments working together and delivering together. 

I know both the difficulties and the advantages of working across sectors, across departments and to work with many governments. Whether it was finding global consensus among governments and industry on what to do to stop blood diamonds, or working together with civil society, private sector and the Government to fight HIV and AIDS, one thing I learnt for sure is that by going together, you can go far and many more benefit.

As UN Women, I believe we must also strengthen existing collaborations with partners inside and outside the United Nations so that we can benefit from their expertise and their strengths. And we can serve many more women than what we can do alone as UN Women, as that is the importance of mainstreaming: much more can be done.  

I strongly believe in mainstreaming the women’s agenda across sectors in governments, in civil society, the private sector and in the United Nations system.

I also believe in engaging men and boys as partners as we promote women’s rights as human rights. And on this, I applaud the UN Secretary-General’s efforts and his network of men leaders to end violence against women. 

In my view, the work of UN Women is a service to humanity, which requires all to make a contribution.
This is what I emphasized recently when I spoke to the staff of UN Women, that ours is a service to humanity because:

We cannot end poverty and hunger;
We cannot have lasting peace;
We cannot have sustainable development if we leave out women and girls. 

Because if we do, we leave behind half of humanity.  

When I was younger, it seemed sometimes that apartheid was invincible and I saw the suffering it brought to my country and neighbouring countries.But more importantly, I also saw the global solidarity that brought apartheid down. Ending apartheid had become everyone’s concern, a global concern. From schoolchildren to sportspeople to artists to leaders, people from all walks of life, from around the globe came together, united in their resolve to end this injustice. 

And the international community, despite opposition by some, stood firm and delivered sanctions under the flag of the United Nations. Apartheid was pronounced as a crime against humanity. Many Governments passed legislation and took action to mobilize their nationals against apartheid.

Mr. President, 

I know the power and the impact of international solidarity. I am a beneficiary of that resolve, when we are united against a problem even with some differences, significant progress is made, and I know we can deal a fatal blow on systematic discrimination, violence and injustice against women and girls. In South Africa, the long-awaited opportunity to change the course of history was seized by all. All the hard work of many years came together; the victory was as a result of a partnership by all.

I believe in the power of partnership and the importance of seizing a moment. With the work that has been done with partners around the world on women, there is a moment and an opportunity for greater transformation. 

The historic moment is now before-and-after 2015. So that the 21st century can be a century for women.

Our Strategic Plan is but one key element in this moment.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates, 

We are in a historic moment, as we develop the post-2015 development agenda, prepare for Beijing+20, and implement the historic agreement reached at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women to prevent and end violence against women and girls.

We are also living in a time of backlash and threats to women’s rights.

Thus, we need to make sure that women are central to the post-2015 development framework. 

As UN Women, we have called for a stand-alone gender equality goal together with full integration of gender equality in all other goals in the post-2015 development agenda.

Let us use the Beijing+20 and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as an opportunity for mobilization and to mobilize funding for women and girls.

Our updated Strategic Plan for the next four years will guide us forward. Today I seek your full endorsement and ask for your support for our Strategic Plan for 2014 through 2017, which you have crafted.

This plan is informed by lessons learned, by changes taking place in the world and by your suggestions and guidance.  

I thank you very much for the important role you played in its development. 

This plan is an enabler, against which we will be held accountable for delivery on specific indicators. It has greater focus and clarity, is ready to share with our partners and to implement together. 

In implementing the Strategic Plan, we will seek to use the power of innovation and technology, education, engaging youth and women, men and boys, and mainstream the women’s agenda into efforts for poverty eradication.

Mr. President,

In all we do, we are guided by international norms and standards, with a desire and a commitment to do all we can to change the lives of women and girls irreversibly.

Our six priorities give us the framework that we need to move forward.

Key Focus Areas

As a priority, we will work to advance women’s leadership and participation so that women’s voices are heard. 

We will work to enhance women’s economic empowerment, which I want to push forward with renewed emphasis. This is essential to eradicate poverty and build prosperous and inclusive societies, to enable women to prevent and survive gender-based violence. I am very excited about one of our enablers for economic empowerment, our new partnership platform for women’s economic empowerment that we will preview on Wednesday. Women’s economic empowerment – like education and reproductive health and rights –is key to our success at UN Women and we need to continue to collaborate with the competent agencies who are leading this work.  

I want us at UN Women to give economic empowerment a bigger push and a boost.

We will work to end violence against women and girls, and the implementation of the historic agreement reached at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The fact that one in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence has to drive us with renewed vigor and a sense of urgency to end this global pandemic.

We will work to ensure that women play their full role in matters of peace and security. We are guided by the Security Council resolutions 1325 and those that follow, and by women’s voices and demands for peace and justice. We will support the involvement and appointment of more women at senior levels in peace talks, peacebuilding and the peacekeeping sphere.

We will work to support plans and budgets that empower women and girls and promote gender equality. This is essential not only for empowering women, but for powering economies to benefit all citizens.  

National economies need women’s empowerment and participation to boost GDP growth, to fight poverty, to end violence against women, and to create safer cities. This starts with universal access to education for girls. And this requires engagement from the private sector and from governments, the UN and civil society. 

Executive Board members, I urge you to help to make a strong case for investing in women and girls to boost development and fight poverty. This case should be made to every Minister of Finance in the world. I look forward to working with you to take this forward so that we are better-resourced.

UN Women will work harder to strengthen UN system-wide collaboration, coherence and accountability for women’s empowerment and gender equality. UN Women will continue to work with other UN entities such as UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA and many others and support their leadership in their specialized areas in order for all of us to reach the MDGs. Civil society and Member States also play an important role here at the global and country level. Without civil society, our impact will not be as strong. 

Our partnerships with UN agencies and with the Every Woman Every Child Campaign and the Global Education First Initiative are essential for delivering the best results for women and girls worldwide.

My Vision is to change the game 

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates, 

From 2014 through 2017, we need to change the game for women and girls and go much further ahead. There is a moment, as I said. This can be done by fully implementing the many good resolutions, conventions, laws and plans that we already have, and moving the women’s agenda from the sidelines to the mainstream. 

This requires a combination of political and financial will. 

It also means we need your support more than ever to provide the resources to UN Women as envisaged at its founding. 

This moment in history has to be about accelerated and high-impact change, which also depends on greater resources.

It is my hope that over the next four years – because of you, because of UN Women, the UN family, civil society, the private sector, and men and women and young people around the world, united in words and deeds – we will realize historic changes in the lives of women and girls and their families, especially the poorest of the poor.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,

As I think about our Strategic Plan and what we need to do, I keep thinking about how we can have the greatest impact in each of our priority areas, in a manner that changes the lives of our neediest women and girls. 

Can we make greater use of technology for development and for the empowerment of women? 

I think we can. 

And I look forward to your guidance and suggestions as we seek greater innovation and impact and carry out our Strategic Plan.

Resource Mobilization

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

We have a challenge in UN Women that we cannot ignore. From the start we have been underfunded. We were born at the height of the global financial crisis and many other challenges. But this initial setback longer remains a defining feature.

For this year, 2013, our reduced total target of  USD 300 million dollars will not be met, based on written pledges and verbal indications that we have received so far. 

I urge you to do more. The commitment to gender equality can be boosted by matching it with improved contributions.

Distinguished Delegates,

I urge you as Member States to provide increased contributions to UN Women so that momentum and progress can be sustained.

I realize that Member States face challenging financial times. I ask for your consideration and re-prioritization so that UN Women can be one of your priorities and acquire significant, higher and a new level of resources, to enable us to fully implement our Strategic Plan for the benefit of women.

We need to break the historic pattern of under-investment in women and girls, and to make sure that UN Women does not end up in the same position as the many marginalized women and girls we were created to serve.

I want to assure you that fundraising is my top priority. I intend to work with my team and many of you to find ways of putting us on sound financial ground.

I am truly grateful to all Member States that have pledged and especially those that have increased their contributions.

My immediate priority is to expand the donor base and to tap the private sector, foundations, philanthropists and private individuals.

In this regard, I welcome your suggestions and your proactive outreach to your networks and constituencies.

Integrated Budget and Accountability

Mr. President,

The USD 690 million in contributions, which we are requesting for our integrated budget for 2014 and 2015, is a modest target and a bare minimum. I have been told by my team that this budget does not represent the ceiling, it represents the floor.

We will introduce the integrated budget 2014-2015 tomorrow, when we will have a chance to discuss this in more detail.

In summary, we intend to take collaboration and the concept of ‘walking together’ and ‘delivering as one’ as far as possible and to new heights. This is part of mainstreaming and part of making savings, and avoiding duplication.

I pledge that I will do my utmost to ensure that our funds are used wisely, deliver value for money, and produce positive outcomes for, and with, those we serve.

I am encouraged by the fact that we have a clean audit opinion from the UN Board of Auditors. I salute Madame Bachelet’s leadership, the internal audit team, and my deputies, Ms. Puri and Mr. Hendra, and the leaders in the regional and national offices. 

I am grateful to the whole team at UN Women for their hard work. I agree with the Staff Union who told me that UN Women is the greatest resource I have, with unmatched dedication, staff here at headquarters, in regional offices and in national offices, thank you UN Women team members for your hard work.

Thank you to the Executive Board and our internal audit team for your dedication and your guidance.


In closing, Mr. President,Distinguished Delegates,I am grateful to have this possibility to serve the women of the world, and am humbled to lead UN Women and to walk with you on this journey.

Together, I believe we can be game-changers. Together with the women and girls, men and boys of the world, we can make the 21st century a century for women, with change that is irreversible, that will not only benefit women, but all of humanity.

I thank you.