“We need a movement for change” – Executive Director

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the launch event for the Beijing+20 Campaign in Australia, 27 August 2014, Parliament House, Canberra.

Date: Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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Distinguished guests,

It is wonderful to be here among you in this magnificent Parliament House.

Australia has a proud international record when it comes to gender equality and the empowerment of women, dating back to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Continuing that legacy, Australia has been a key partner and a close friend to UN Women since 2010, when we were created to accelerate progress for the world’s women and girls.

We have now reached a critical moment in this effort.

Nearly 20 years ago, world leaders and activists came together for the Beijing Women’s Conference, where 189 nations adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This was a visionary roadmap for gender equality, which imagines a world where each woman and girl can exercise freedom and choice.

Today, more girls are in school, more women have access to health care, and more women are working and assuming positions of leadership.

But progress has been slow and uneven. No country, not even Australia, has achieved gender equality.

Women still earn less than men for equal work. Too few women have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. And one in three women – worldwide – will suffer physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.

Gaps in reproductive rights and health care leave 800 women dying from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day. That risk is highest for girls under 15 years old. This is an offence to our common humanity.
We must call a stop to it.

UN Women was founded three years ago to urgently accelerate the pace of change. We are the youngest UN entity, and we are purpose-built to be results-focused, transparent and accountable.

We are the one and only UN entity charged with achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment – a constituency of more than half the world’s population.

And with partners like Australia, we are getting results.

To take one example: our Safe Cities programme. 

In Port Moresby, the emphasis is on making markets safer. Often dilapidated, poorly lit and too small, these are centres of economic activity and gathering places for people. But they are not safe. Most of the market vendors are women. Their cash draws violent robbery and rape. A toxic mix of substance abuse and high youth unemployment make the markets one of the most dangerous areas of the capital for women and girls.

The UN Women solution, supported by Australia, linked the local government, the police force, a microfinance bank, and a phone app. Mobile banking and freedom from robbery and attack, coupled with financial training for the women market vendors has changed their horizons and built their independence. They are making plans and saving money. There have been no more attacks in the markets.

This is practical empowerment. We are scaling it up to create safer urban spaces for women all over the world, from Dublin to Cairo, from Rio de Janeiro to Manila, in varied and creative partnerships with local governments and communities that solve local problems.

This launch today is part of a massive global campaign to accelerate action and to position gender equality and women’s empowerment front and centre on the global agenda.

My friends, 2015 isn’t just the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Next year will also see the Millennium Development Goals expire, and the international community adopt a new set of goals for global development.

That only intensifies the urgency of our campaign.

This is a critical moment – a chance to reinvigorate the movement for gender equality, to mobilize our communities and demand renewed commitment and real change.

At home and abroad, equality in education and economic opportunity means healthier, wealthier families. More inclusive economies, workforces and boardrooms mean greater shared prosperity.

Equality for women in leadership means stronger and more responsive democracy, more resilient communities, and better prospects for international peace and security.

My friends, in many parts of the world women’s rights are under direct attack.

We need a movement for change.

When the world came together to end apartheid in the 1970s and 80s, the Australian Government played a strong role – but so did its people.

In 1971, seven Australian rugby players refused to play the racially-selected Springbok team, and that same year, Sir Donald Bradman declared that Australia’s cricketers would not play South Africa “until they choose a team on a non-racist basis.”

Today, the women and girls of the world need Australians to play that role again.

And it is heartening to see that Australian rugby players are once again on the right side of history, through the Wallabies’ partnership with UN Women!

If all of us do – to end gender inequality – what the freedom-loving people of the world did to finish apartheid, we cannot lose.

The movement needs us all - students, CEOs, sportspersons, journalists, artists, youth, religious and community leaders, civil society and the media.

There is a place for everyone.

Earlier this year UN Women launched #HeForShe, a solidarity movement to engage men and boys to show their support for gender equality.

In creating the campaign, we were inspired by some of the excellent work that has been done here in Australia with the White Ribbon campaign and the Male Champions for Change.

The campaign we are launching today: Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it! is an invitation to every Australian to join the movement, take action, and make your voice heard.

In your workplace, your school, your community, online and in the streets, let’s make gender equality a reality – now!