Placing women’s human rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality at the centre of the global agenda

Key note speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the opening of the Nordiskt Forum on 14 June, 2014, in Malmö, Sweden.

Date: Monday, June 16, 2014

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Distinguished guests, colleagues and friends, I am honoured to participate in this panel today.

After years of hard work in defining the post-2015 development agenda, we have reached a critical moment.

We are making progress and we have to stay on track and place women’s human rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality at the centre of the global agenda.

We all know that gender inequality remains the most pervasive form of inequality around the world and a pressing human rights violation.

At the 58th Commission on the Status of Women held in March, Member States made their voices heard. The overwhelming message was that progress on the MDGs has been unacceptably slow for women and girls, and a bold, comprehensive and transformative approach is urgently needed.

Member States were clear: gender equality should be a priority for two reasons: First, to address structural inequality and accelerate progress for women and girls; and second, to lay a strong foundation that will support the entire post-2015 agenda to be successful.

The Agreed Conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women strongly affirm the relationship between development and the human rights of women and girls.

It calls for action to realize women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights.

As we meet, the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals is currently in the final stage of its work. The Co-chairs are leading a process of defining goals and targets for the 16 focus areas.

According to the most recent text of the Co-Chairs of the Open Working Group, the proposed goal five is to attain gender equality, empower women and girls everywhere by the year 2030.

The 11 targets are to: 

1. End all forms of discrimination against women and girls
2. Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spaces
3. Eliminate all harmful practices, including child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations
4. Ensure equal access to quality education and eliminate gender disparities at all levels of education and training
5. Ensure women’s equal access to full and productive employment and decent work, and equal pay for work of equal value
6. Reduce and redistribute unpaid care and domestic work through shared responsibility
7. Ensure women’s equal access to, control and ownership of assets and natural and other productive resources, as well as non-discriminatory access to essential services and infrastructure, including financial services and ICT
8. Ensure full, equal and effective participation and leadership of women at all levels of decision-making in the public and private spheres
9. Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)
10. Promote the availability of gender disaggregated data to improve gender equality policies, including gender-responsive budgeting
11. Fully engage men and boys in efforts to promote and achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

My friends, this goal and these targets, which are yet to be finalized and for which we must keep pushing, are to be achieved by 2030. And we must aspire to their achievement.

As we meet, debate continues about the inclusion of language on the realization of the human rights of women and girls.

We must stand strong on human rights for women and girls as this was an omission in the MDGs, which must now be included. The post-2015 development framework must be human-rights-based, universal and inclusive.

I would also like to stress that equally important is the integration of gender equality targets and indicators across all Focus Areas. Going forward, it is important that Member States raise the need for gender-specific targets and indicators across the framework.

A future goal on education must include targets and indicators that monitor the rights of women and girls to a quality education at all levels.

A sustainable energy goal should include targets on access to sustainable energy for women’s economic empowerment.

I would also like to emphasize that effective monitoring of gender equality will require an increased investment in gender indicators, statistics and data, disaggregated by sex, age, disability, location and other relevant factors. We need a gender data revolution!

And I am glad that the Open Working Group has engaged the statistical community in discussions about the measurability of the targets. We all know that we need to be able to monitor and measure progress. It is great that statisticians have specifically been asked to attend the next Open Working Group session.

Moving forward, we must stay focused on human rights; as well as how to address governance and rule of law, and peace and security.

It was observed during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 58 that specific human rights issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, and sexual orientation and gender identity remain contentious.

And we know that while there is strong support for the target areas, contentious issues still remain. Reducing the burden of unpaid care work has raised a lot of questions as well as reservations by Member States. There are also concerns about how to address equal access to assets and productive resources, including natural resources management; and ending child, early and forced marriage.

We also see that the means of implementation, including resourcing and funding for the future agenda, also continue to be debated. There remains significant polarization. And yet, we all know that the success of the future agenda is dependent on adequate financing and an enabling environment.

In closing, I would like to thank the Nordic Forum for this important panel and discussion.

We all have a shared responsibility to ensure that measures are taken to address gender inequality and discrimination. Action needs to bevtaken to go beyond talking about gender equality and women’s rights.

Women's empowerment and gender equality are not only goals in their own right; they are also critical means to an end—peace and progress that is sustainable.

This work requires sustained national ownership and universal commitment to achieve effective and increased financing for gender equality.

We need strong accountability mechanisms and transparency, to enable ordinary men and women and civil society to monitor progress and hold decision-makers accountable. Women’s collective action plays a critical role in holding decision-makers to account and advancing women’s rights and must be supported.

The new post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals must build on the lessons learned from the MDGs. And this must go hand-in-hand with the 20-year review of the Beijing Women’s Conference and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

This is a unique and historic moment to place women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality at the centre of the global agenda.

We need a transformative, universal, and human rights-based development agenda, with equality, including gender equality, at the centre.

We can make this century the century to achieve equality between women and men. We can do this. I encourage you, everyone here, to do your part.

We need to reach out and bring all partners on board for the SHE Imperative:
S = safety and security from violence
H = human rights
E = empowerment and equality!

We need all men and boys to stand up for the rights of women and girls and join our HeForShe global movement!

We can do this! The time has come!

I thank you and I look forward to our discussions.