“We cannot afford to lose the potential of another generation of women” — Executive Director

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Second National Encounter of Women Legislators of the Commissions for Gender Equality and the Heads of Mechanisms for Women’s Progress in the 32 Mexican States, 4 December 2014, Mexico.

Date: Thursday, December 4, 2014

[As delivered]

Your Excellencies,
Lorena Cruz Sánchez, Chair of the National Institute of Women of Mexico;
Congresswoman Martha Lucía Micher Camarena, Chair of the Commission for Gender Equality of the House of Representatives;
Alejandro Alday González, Officer in Charge of the Secretariat for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico;
Alfonso Isaac Gamboa Lozano, Head of the Unit of Policy and Budget Control of the Ministry of Finance and Public Accounting;
Honorable Members of the Mexican Congress;
Representatives of the State-level women’s machineries and congresses;
Representatives of local and federal government institutions;
Colleagues from the United Nations system;
Ladies and gentlemen,

First, let me thank the Mexican authorities and people for the honour of addressing you today, on this, my first official visit in my capacity as UN Women Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
And I thank you all for your wonderful, warm welcome.

It is a real privilege to be in Mexico, to witness first-hand your impressive gains, in the laws related to equality between women and men, and in the promotion of women’s empowerment.

This year you made history with political reform that raised gender parity in nominations to federal and local legislators to the constitutional status in Mexico. Now that’s what I call real commitment to mainstreaming!

This move gives gender equality the highest possible political positioning.

As we all know so well, this has to be followed up by implementation, which discussions like this facilitate.

We are at a critical time in history. We face the convergence of several defining processes that hold the potential to transform the lives of women and girls around the world.

In 2015, world leaders will adopt a global development agenda for the next 15 years. I am sure we are all aware that we are ending the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the agenda that has guided us for the last 15 years.
That agenda created many possibilities for countries to compete in a positive way. Countries tried to increase enrolment in schools, and they tried to do as much as possible to decrease infant mortality and address many other critical universal challenges.

In the next 15 years we will set new goals for the world. At the same time, 2015 is 20 years after we adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action - that very important agreement - which at first was endorsed by 189 countries in China. It remains the biggest and boldest agreement that the nations of the world ever adopted.

There is now a possibility for these processes to converge, and to give us an unprecedented opportunity to make change.

We can look back at achievements and challenges, and we must look forward to close gaps and accelerate progress.

This is the focus of the ongoing review of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. We have so far received a record total of 158 national reports, including Mexico’s, of what countries have done in the last 20 years for women.

We have been analysing them, assisted by United Nations Regional Commissions who have hosted conferences to review in depth what has happened to women in the last 20 years. Interesting findings have emerged.

In most countries, from the poorest countries, to middle-income, to rich countries, a lot of progress has been made. Even though the situation is not perfect, there are more women surviving childbirth, and more girls who are in school. Access to health has improved in most countries, including even the poor countries.

However, the review also shows that in almost all countries the implementation has not been as strong as we wanted it to be, and the financing of gender equality has not been as good. We have created institutions, we have the laws, but we can do much better when it comes to the implementation. And we can also make budgets available for implementing. That is why today is so important.   

The reviews also show that when it comes to political participation and the representation of women in decision-making bodies in the world, in general, we have not performed that well. We have progressed, but not far enough. This undermines the areas where we have made progress. The reviews also show that in terms of economic participation, even when more women are in work, we have moved very slowly and poverty still dominates women’s situation. 

Two things that, combined, compromise the progress that we should be celebrating are: lack of representation in decision-making bodies, including in the private sector, and lack of economic participation.

We now have the data and understand the solution that we need. The next 15 years of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have to be about correcting and fixing these gaps. 

What is needed now are:

  • The practical means to implement policy, through continuing to build strong national and local institutions, so that they can implement effectively the good laws that you have passed.  
  • Planning and budgeting processes that are gender-responsive, from the federal government to the state and municipal levels.

We need to focus on the local levels – the neighbourhoods where women’s rights need to be enjoyed.

These everyday places are where the new freedoms will be lived and experienced — in what Eleanor Roosevelt in 1958 suggested was the beginning place for human rights: “In small places, close to home…the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood [s]he lives in; the school or college [s]he attends; the factory, farm or office where [s]he works.”

Today I ask you to resolve to apply a gender lens to each decision that affects the “small places” and the individuals.

Because it is only by doing this that we will reach the “greater places”.

Investing in women is not only a matter of fundamental human rights — it is also a matter of liberating an enormous force for economic, social and cultural growth.

There are adequate data that prove this in almost every country.

A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) study found that gender equality in labour participation rates would have a strong positive impact on GDP growth.

Goldman Sachs researchers found that if women’s paid employment rates were raised to the same level as men’s in 15 major developing economies, income per capita would rise by 14 per cent by 2020, and 20 per cent by 2030. We have to do this, not because of the economy, but because it is the right thing to do.

Evidence from all regions shows that encouraging women’s participation in the economy has a multiplier effect that boosts growth and strengthens social cohesion and well-being. It gives women the possibility to earn an income so they can make choices about moving away from abusive relationships. It gives women the means to invest in their children, so their children can have a better life and a better education. Through that, women stop the next generation of poor people. If women are poor they give birth to the next generation of poor people.

Evidence also shows that when we invest in women’s education and economic participation, we will reduce infant mortality and maternal deaths, and in areas of conflict or climatic disasters women are more resilient to survive.

Here in Mexico, local and provincial investment decisions need to take full advantage of this knowledge so as to ensure that women and girls have equal access to education and training, as well as to productive resources like land and credit. And women and girls must be free of violence.

Local and provincial investment decisions need to ensure women’s access to services, such as preschools, childcare services, and care centres for older adults. This will free up women from having to do unpaid work; this is the largest setback that women and girls of every part of the world face. Social protection is essential, to allow women to be productive citizens and to contribute to the welfare of their nations.

Here in Mexico, there is a great opportunity to demonstrate and benefit from all these possibilities.

The recent World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014 shows that the gender gap for economic participation and opportunity has closed by just 4 percentage points since 2006 to 2014. That is slow progress.

On our current trajectory it will take another 81 years to reach equality.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We cannot afford to lose the potential of another generation of women. Investing in programmes and policies that benefit women and girls is the way forward.

This is especially true when it comes to those historically excluded: indigenous women, rural women, elderly, disabled and illiterate women, among others.

Without data we will not be able to achieve this effectively. That is why I am so proud of the role Mexico is playing in the data revolution. You are showing the world the importance of data.

Without good data we are blind.

Now an increasing number of countries are replicating your good practices to collect and analyse data on vital issues, such as time use and the value of women’s unpaid care work, or violence against women.

In the lead up to 2015 we are in a position to invite world leaders to make their decisions about the future they want. That future must be based on data in terms of the projections they are making, as well as the commitments that will involve the equal participation of both men and women. The responsibility to change the world for better is a responsibility for everybody.

I want to end by urging and thanking you to take the next big bold steps, which will include connecting the good progress at the federal level with the local level in terms of spending and planning. By doing so you will give the world another instance of a role model of how to change the world for the better and how to empower women.

I wish you great success in these important discussions.

Thank you.