Beijing+20: WHAT? An interactive dialogue with young people about gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 context

A speech by Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the ECOSOC Youth Assembly on 3 June, 2014, in New York.


Distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends…

I want to take you back to a time that many of you may not remember.

Almost 20 years ago, in September 1995, more than 40,000 people gathered in Beijing, China, for the Fourth World Conference on Women.

They came from all around the world.

They were old and young, spoke different languages, but they had a single purpose: to realize the dream of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

It took two weeks of intense political debate for delegates representing 189 countries to come up with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

It is a visionary roadmap for advancing women’s rights and gender equality worldwide.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action imagined a world where women and girls could exercise full and equal rights, freedoms and choices in their everyday life.

It included concrete steps and recommendations to make this vision a reality.

In the past two decades, a lot of progress has been made.

Today, more women are working, getting elected, becoming CEOs and competing in the Olympics. But much more needs to be done.

No country has realized the vision of gender equality in all dimensions of life.

I’d like to focus particularly on how this affects younger people, because the issue of intergenerational inequality is closely linked to gender inequality.

About 152 million young workers live in households that are below the poverty line of USD 1.25 per day.

Young women are particularly affected – they earn up to 30 per cent less than men for the same work and are more likely to work in poor-quality jobs.

Many of you will be joining the workforce in this unequal environment, if you aren’t there already.

One in three girls will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Every minute, a young woman is infected with HIV.

Eight hundred women are dying in childbirth each day. Young women are particularly vulnerable due to the gaps in health care and reproductive rights.

Less than 6 per cent of parliamentarians are under 35 years, and only 1 in 5 is a woman.

The evidence shows that inequality does not just hold back young people, or women and girls.

It damages communities and cripples nations.

The good news is that we know the benefits of equality. We know the benefits of investing in education, and we know that empowering young women and girls has immense benefits for families and communities.

Each one of you is working on solving at least one critical global problem. From protecting the environment to defeating global poverty. From building lasting peace to overcoming disease.

As I am sure you are aware, achieving gender equality will be vital to success in these areas.

And the Beijing vision is closely linked to the international community’s efforts to achieve the Millenium Development Goals and develop a transformative post-2015 development agenda.

That’s why UN Women has launched a new campaign to reinvigorate efforts to implement the Beijing agenda.

It’s called “Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity. Picture It!”

So today, I am asking you to picture a world where gender equality is a reality.

What would that world look like? And how can we make gender equality a lived reality?

Your answers, your vision, and your actions will determine the future of our communities, our nations, and our world.

Thank you, and I will now ask some young women and girls from the floor for their contributions.