Break the social norms and gender stereotypes that constrain the roles of men and boys – Executive Director

Inaugural speech at the MenEngage Global Symposium by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, 10 November 2014, New Delhi.


I am delighted to be here with you today to open this Symposium.

On behalf of UN Women, I would like to recognize and thank our partner, MenEngage, for their superb organization of this Symposium. My special thanks to Abhijit Das, Gary Barker, Dean Peacock.

Also let me acknowledge our sister organization, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), for all their work, conceptually and practically, on men and boys.

This symposium is beautifully timed to convene key partners in the achievement of gender equality at the convergence point of major global policy processes in 2015 and to feed into those processes:

  • the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
  • the adoption of a new sustainable development framework
  • the 15th anniversary review of the 1325 Security Council resolution on women, peace and security
  • the Climate Change Conference at which we hope for a binding and universal agreement

This is the start of a trail-blazing gathering.

Who better to host it than India?

  • the largest democracy in the world
  • one of the fastest-growing economies
  • a member of the G20, of BRICS,
  • a leader in the South,
  • a prominent voice in the shaping of the original Beijing Declaration …

Our host today is well positioned to take a strong leadership role in promoting gender equality, as well as in supporting others to do the same.

As a global community, we have set an expiry date for gender inequality – of 2030. I see this region as one of the main theatres – the make-or-break – for us to reach our goal by this expiry date.

However, as numerous studies have shown us, on the current trajectory we will not achieve this for another 50 years or more. 

We have to re-define our concept of progress. Together, we have to change the narrative.

We need to find new ways of acting that are truly transformative, and to seek out new partners in these efforts.

We have to extend our reach right out, beyond our traditional constituencies and beyond our comfort zones. I hope that our discussion paper “Men, Masculinities and Changing Power Structures: from Beijing 1995 to 2015” will help to frame this and other aspects of our discussions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The gender equality agenda has been led by the women’s movement for decades.

Women and girls have benefited immensely from this relentless advocacy and activism. We must and will continue our efforts.

But this is not a one-sided task. We see the engagement of men and boys –the other half of humanity– as a game-changer in shifting power relations to end discrimination against women and achieve gender equality.

This is why I have launched the HeForShe campaign. One and a half months later, nearly 200,000 men have signed up. But we need more men to sign up.

Here in India an estimated 100 million have access to the Internet. They should all be HeForShe’s!

But we also need men to go beyond a “click” online pledge. We need action.

We need men to speak out against all forms of discrimination, to speak out against sexism.

We need men to take action to stop violence against women, to refuse to be by-standers, to denounce it and to reject impunity.

We need men to say no to marrying young girls and speak out against those who do.

We need men to challenge gender stereotypes, to share equitably in family and household responsibilities, to be positive role models in their communities and their families.

Over the next few days, this Symposium and its amazing cast of participants have the opportunity to come up with firm plans for ways to break the social norms and gender stereotypes that constrain the roles of men and boys and that limit opportunities for women and girls.

It will then be up to all of us to take up the challenge.

I look forward very much to hearing your ideas and to working together for a fully inclusive future.

Thank you.