Opening remarks by UN Women Executive Director at High-level event on MDG progress

Opening remarks of UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the High-Level event with Heads of UN Agencies "Accelerating progress on the MDGs for women and girls", New York, 11 March. A joint statement by the Heads of UN organizations was adopted at the event.


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More than a decade ago, leaders at the Millennium Summit agreed to tackle some of the world’s most pressing development challenges, giving themselves until 2015 to make substantial progress.

Gender equality was recognized as a global priority and as essential for achieving all development goals. Today we can celebrate progress in some areas. 

There has been significant progress in girls’ enrolment in primary education, with developing countries as a whole achieving gender parity in primary education in 2011.

Yet progress for women and girls on the MDGs remains unacceptably slow and uneven. And we will hear more today on this from the panel members.

Suffice it to say that we have much more work to do, from now until 2015, and beyond.

Widespread and persistent gender inequalities are holding back progress for all.

There can be no poverty eradication without resolving women’s – half the world’s – poverty and their right to an adequate standard of living. 

We cannot ensure food security and adequate nutrition for all without ensuring that the world’s women farmers and food producers have access to land, credit, and technology, and the right to feed themselves and their families.

We cannot resolve maternal mortality without fully considering sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

We cannot ensure water and energy for all without making sure that all women have access to these essential public goods without having to walk long distances to get them.

We must learn from the past and do better as we move ahead.

First, we must ensure women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of all human rights.

We must address the structural barriers that are holding back women and girls from realizing their rights.

We must address:

  • Violence against women and girls. This is a missing MDG and it must be addressed with urgency since one in three women worldwide will experience gender-based violence. 
  • We must also address women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care work,
  • Women’s lack of access to resources,
  • Constraints on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and
  • Women’s unequal participation in decision-making, not only in national parliaments but also at both sub-national and global levels. 

In all of these areas we must look beyond global and national averages and address the inequalities that lie behind the averages.

Second, we must pay attention to the broader context and strengthen the enabling environment for gender equality.

We need strong political will to affect change, nurture gender-responsive institutions, put in place strong governance and accountability systems, and economic policies that promote gender equality and human rights and reduce other kinds of inequality.

Third, it is now time to reverse the significant underinvestment in gender equality and women’s empowerment, if we want to see real progress in achieving the MDGs and ensuring that development gains and achievement of rights are equally enjoyed by all women and girls.

Fourth, the full and equal participation of women and girls is critical at all levels to shape and influence policies, to monitor the MDGs and shape the post-2015 agenda. We must recognize and support women’s collective action because we know that this plays a critical role in advancing women’s rights, holding decision-makers accountable and putting emerging issues on the agenda. We also need full engagement of men and boys.

The post-2015 development agenda provides a historic opportunity to learn from the MDGs and get it right for women and girls.

Gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment must be a priority in the post-2015 development agenda and comprehensively addressed throughout the future framework.

This CSW review of the MDGs is taking place at a critical juncture in advancing the global agenda for women’s and girls’ human rights.

I call on Member States to do their part in the next two weeks to achieve a strong forward-looking outcome that will deliver transformational change in the lives of women and girls.

The UN system must also do its part. Today we are launching our joint statement which sets out our commitment to take urgent action to realize women’s and girl’s human rights and accelerate the achievement of the MDGs for women and girls. 

We commit to working in partnership at all levels and prioritizing our resources for gender equality to accelerate achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals.

Read the Joint statement by the Heads of UN organizations that was adopted during this event.

Watch an archived version of the webcast: