Opening statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at CSW58

“Gender Equality, Women’s Rights, Women’s Empowerment”


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Good morning! Thank you for being with us at the opening of the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women!

I thank our Chair, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines. I thank Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his leadership.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
Representatives of civil society, colleagues,

We at UN Women join many of those who are with us today in starting the week with optimism that CSW58 will be a victory for women of the world, like the CSW57 in 2013.

We do so aware of the overwhelming evidence that equality for women is progress for all! And that no solutions to our world’s most pressing challenges – to end poverty, reduce inequality, bring sustainable peace and address climate change – can be achieved without the equal and full participation of women.

We are encouraged by the support of representatives of governments, civil society and the UN system.

The theme of CSW58 is Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the MDGs for women and girls. This theme is about taking stock and getting ready to move forward, so that today is better than yesterday and tomorrow is better than today.

The MDGs and the Beijing Platform for Action are both about making the lives of women and girls better. This is a critical mission and purpose. We have to align our post-2015 efforts with this purpose. For more positive outcomes in the future, let us plan the future with greater impact and sustainability in mind.

Together we must ensure the expenditure is incurred and gains have irreversible impact on the agenda for women and girls. The struggle for woman’s empowerment is more than 100 years old and there is a determined intergenerational force that wants to see a sense of urgency and determination on behalf of the world about avoiding the possibility of wasting another generation.                      

Here at the United Nations, we are guided by the inscription in the UN Charter of the equal rights of men and women, by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. We are also guided by the Platform for Action of the Beijing Women’s Conference. And we are guided by our own determination and our consciences, and our belief in the inherent worth, dignity and equal rights of every human being.

I salute all of you who are here today—Ministers and Ambassadors and representatives of civil society, and all people around the world, who believe in and take action for the human rights of women.

We are here in full force for this 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. There are high expectations that the nexus of the end of the MDGs, Beijing+20 and the looming post-2015 agenda could create a moment in history for a great leap forward that would change for the better, the lives of girls and women everywhere in the world, no matter who they are. 

So that the investments that keep us here and bring us here are for their enriched lives. As they look up to us to fight and win their battles of hunger, abuse, landlessness and illiteracy.The next generation, our young people, men and women, need us to hand them a better world as well as to allow and support them to make it better, for men and women, once and for all, ending the discrimination of women as an achievement of the early part of the 21st century. This will be a milestone for all of humanity. The younger generation and all of us share a deep responsibility for a greater purpose.

As Franzt Fanon said: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it...”

The MDGs are the biggest partnership to fight poverty that the world has ever seen, from Heads of State to ordinary caregivers, they have given us important insights into what can be achieved and the challenges we face.

There is no doubt that the MDGs have contributed to galvanizing action and resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Indeed, the MDGs have played an important role in demonstrating why gender equality should be embedded as a global priority. Some of the highlights and challenges of the MDGS include:

With reference to the world halving extreme poverty – Albeit in certain parts of the world, from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010.  The challenges that remain include structural barriers and the persisting gender gap in employment. The MDGs exposed us to the benefits of reducing women’s poverty.

For universal access to primary education the countries with the least resources and biggest backlog made the biggest progress and enrolled the highest number of girls. We now also know however that enrolment without quality is not enough to address poverty and that secondary education is important. We have to do more for quality.

For gender equality and empowering women – Goal 3 reflects important dimensions of gender inequality, however we also know from the SGs report that Goal 3 needed to address critical issues such as violence against women, inequalities in the division of unpaid care work, women’s limited access to assets, violations of women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, and their unequal participation in private and public decision-making beyond national parliaments. Unless all dimensions of gender equality are addressed, progress will not be made for women and for all of society, which is why gender mainstreaming is important.

To reduce child mortality – Progress has been significant. It is expected to be reduced by two-thirds by 2015. The violation of young girls' denial of reproductive health services and reproductive rights is a major negative contributor. The choice here is clear; it is about respecting and protecting girl’s reproductive health, ending early pregnancies, so-called child marriages and keeping girls in school longer.

To improve maternal health and universal access to reproductive health services This is one of the targets that has poorly performed and is likely to be met last. The deaths of women and girls are preventable; yet 800 women die every day from complications related to child birth. The lack of reproductive health-care services, unsafe abortions and lack of control over their bodies, along with the unmet needs for family planning, contribute to slow progress.

On combating HIV and AIDS – Structural gender inequality has undermined an effective response. Progress has been made in dealing with stigma, prevention, access to treatment and positive lifestyle.  

With regard to sustainable development 2.1 billion more people got access to clean drinking water. Girls and women bear the responsibility of fetching water and further progress requires a stronger gender perspective.It is, however, poor access to sanitation that is a challenge that is not expected to be met. This is a major setback for women and girls. The missing gender dimension means neglecting the particular needs of women, which contributes to school dropout rates. 

On developing a global partnership for development – Access to development finance for women is a huge obstacle for global organizations like UN Women to small women’s organization in communities. There is a disconnect between the loud support for women’s advancement and the direction of resources.

Because women’s issues arise in all areas, it is important to mainstream the funding while also supporting women’s organizations.

The heightened interest of women has brought more than 6,000 representatives who have pre-registered for CSW from 860 civil society organizations. Nearly 135 side events have been organized by UN agencies, along with more than 300 parallel events hosted by the NGO community.

In this CSW we also we kick-off a year-long mobilization for the 20th anniversary and review of the landmark Beijing Platform for Action.   

From May 2014 and over a 12-month period into 2015, we will review each of the 12 focus areas that are part of the Beijing Platform, together with Member States, UN agencies and civil society groups.

This will lead to national and regional reports culminating in a single global report on the progress made. The report will be ready by the General Assembly of 2015 for Heads of State.

The process is expected to mobilize and re-energize stakeholders in support of the women’s movement, help to mobilize resources and position the outstanding substantive issues. Together we need to mobilize and reach out to additional and bigger untapped support for women.

Youth, private sector and media are important role-players along with men and boys, whose silence is deafening. A louder voice is much-needed.

The challenge of gender equality and women’s empowerment is not just a women’s issue. This is an issue for humanity, which cannot leave out men and boys who are half of humanity.

That is why building up to Beijing+20, UN Women has launched the He for She campaign so that men and boys can raise their voices, take a stand and be on the right side of history. We urge men and boys to come out and embrace the campaign as well as take action in their own spaces.

The campaign is well underway and has reached more than 18 million people!

The He for She Campaign is part of our larger efforts for Beijing+20 and our upcoming global campaign entitled -Empowering women empowering humanity - Picture it.

UN Women is heartened by the strong support of UN Member States and civil society groups for a dedicated goal on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming across other Sustainable Development Goals, as targets and indicators.

This strong support was voiced at the Open Working Group meeting last month and the regional preparatory meetings for this CSW session.

There was support for the three target areas of a dedicated goal.

The first is freedom from violence for women and girls – We cannot allow ending violence against women and girls to be omitted again, as it was in the MDGs. As we speak, levels of violence against women has reached alarming promotion with one in three women experiencing some physical or sexual violence worldwide.

The second is equality in capabilities – Access to opportunities and resources. This means recognizing, reducing and redistributing the burden of unpaid care work; ensuring equal access to assets and resources such as education, land and finance; equal pay and working conditions; and guaranteeing sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The third area is equality in agency, voice, participation and leadership across the full range of decision-making arenas in public and private institutions. 

Mr. Chair,

During the next two weeks, this Commission will discuss many important matters, from the MDGs to the post-2015 development agenda, to women’s and girls’ access to education, training, science and technology, productive resources to full employment and decent work for women.

At this session, we have before us the reports of the Secretary-General:

  • On the situation of, and assistance to, Palestinian women,
  • On the situation of women and children taken hostage, and
  • Two reports on our priority theme—one on challenges and achievements of the MDGs for women and girls, and the other on gender mainstreaming in national policies and programmes, and
  • Related reports on maternal mortality, and on women and girls, and HIV and AIDS, and
  • A report on empowering women in natural disasters, and
  • One on the ways and means to further enhance the impact of the work of the Commission on the Status of Women.

You also have before you my two reports—one on the normative aspects of the work of UN Women, and the other on the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

Distinguished Delegates,

We need to take big leaps, not baby steps, to achieve equality between women and men sooner, rather than later. We need bold action.

The key message that captures what we actually need to do is what I call the SHE imperative.

S stands for the safety and security of women and girls from all forms of violence,
H stands for her human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, education, land rights, equal pay, recognition of unpaid care and all the rights and opportunities to which she is entitled.
E stands for equality and empowered decision-making and full leadership and participation in all spheres of life.

This is the SHE imperative, to help us to reach out to people worldwide.

As we commence with the 58th session of CSW, I urge Member States to achieve a strong forward-looking outcome that will deliver transformational change in the lives of women and girls. 

We can and must do better because equality for women is progress for all!

We must make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today.

Thank you very much.