“This is an acceleration moment”—Lakshmi Puri speaks on galvanizing action towards Planet 50-50 by 2030

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the Global Civil Society Dialogue on 23 November 2015, in New York.


Your Excellencies,
Distinguished civil society leaders,
Ladies and gentlemen,

As you well know, UN Women has since its inception greatly valued its privileged partnership and symbiotic relationship with civil society—some would say we have an umbilical cord to you, in every area—advocacy, programmatic work, knowledge hub and partnerships, but especially in intergovernmental norm-setting.

So it's a pleasure for me to speak to you to quickly recap what we have achieved jointly at this historic conjunction—that there is a growing recognition that the Gender Equality Project is perhaps the most important one for humanity in the 21st century and that it is achievable.

To seize upon this, and to utilize what normative processes lie ahead especially CSW60, to try and finish latest by 2030, we need to address what has been languishing for centuries—to end discrimination and violence against women and give them equal right to their humanity as the feminist credo demands.

Allow me to also welcome the Chair of CSW60, His Excellency Ambassador Antonio Patriota, Permanent Representative of Brazil; Her Excellency Ambassador Elizabeth Coleman, US Representative for UN Management and Reform; and His Excellency Ambassador Ib Petersen, Permanent Representative of Denmark—all of whom are passionate advocates of the goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Your continued leadership, commitment and support have certainly pushed the normative needle on gender equality in the right direction.

Normative wins:

Since its creation five years ago, UN Women, in partnership with you and champion governments, has successfully used the UN intergovernmental normative processes to push the frontiers for gender equality, women's empowerment and women's and girls’ rights related norms, standards, prioritization, commitments and implementation on the ground at global, regional and inter-regional fora and at the national and local levels, not only in specific traditional spaces dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women but as a mainstreamed and central focus in the interrelated domains of sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions, human rights, peace and security, and humanitarian agendas.

This has meant that the essentialism of gender equality and women's empowerment is recognized as an intrinsic value, as a key enabler and beneficiary, and as a transformative force multiplier and driver of all of these critical pursuits of humanity and their successes. Also important is affirming the essentialism of gender equality in Agenda 2030; that “sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities”.

It is this self-belief that we want you—the torchbearers of feminism and wisdom treasurers—to carry forward, to reflect and advocate widely, as you have been doing over the decades of your struggle for gender equality with indomitable courage and conviction and even when such a consensus was lacking. What is more, the gender equality reality is increasingly seen as the art of the possible—it is no longer seen only as a Sisyphean effort—of halting progress, intractable structural barriers and threats of regression. The very first paragraph of the Addis Ababa Agenda declares: “We will achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment."

Though it is still geopolitically challenged and culturally contested with new threats like those posed by violent extremists and terrorism, by shrinking democratic space in some quarters and increasing areas of conflict. This historic year has seen a remarkable unity of purpose, in the global normative space—a self-belief that a gender equal world is not only needed but that it is mission possible as our Executive Director keeps affirming.

Important normative benchmarks that we would recommend for you to use in your advocacy and programmatic work are those that UN Women, together with all our partners—governments and all of you—secured: the commitment to the centrality of achieving substantive gender equality in global normative intergovernmental processes and outcomes, through the adoption of the Political Declaration at CSW59 on the Beijing+20 review and commemoration, building on the Rio+20 the Future We Want Agenda and the call for transformative financing for gender equality commitments in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, to centering gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Transforming our world, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Another milestone in the normative framework was the high-level review and Global study on Implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security and adoption of the landmark UNSC resolution 2242.

We must also welcome the commitment in the 2030 Agenda and SDG 16 to a world that fulfils its promise for a more peaceful, just and inclusive society for women thus closing the dichotomy between development, peace and security and humanitarian action. The Women, Peace and Security agenda and sustainable development efforts in conflict and post-conflict countries must be pursued concurrently and more coherently.

We have been advocating for a new climate change agreement that adequately reflects the principles of gender equality and women’s empowerment to be concluded next month in Paris. We need all your support to retain the references that were inserted in Bonn last month.

We are also working to make sure that next year Habitat III on human settlements and new urban agenda and the World Humanitarian Summit to set policies on effective humanitarian response and resilience building recognizes the role and agency of women and their organizations as much as their special need for support.

Another big opportunity for you to capitalize upon is the Global Leaders’ Summit held on 27 September this year at the UN, when UN Women and the world made history by convening an apex Beijing+20 meeting, the first-ever meeting of more than 70 Heads of State and Government who pledged to “Step it up” by making the highest level political commitments for action to realize gender equality by 2030.

You met and caucused around the commitments and you gave messages at the meeting itself. We hope that you will follow up and work with national gender mechanisms and others in government to hold them to account on implementation.

Those Heads of State and Governments who could not make it should be persuaded to come forward so we can include them in the Global Book of Commitments and use that to drive political change critical to tackling structural barriers.

For civil society in many countries these highest-level political commitments also constitute a "political insurance" besides empowering all gender equality civil society organizations and constituencies and you must use them as the basis to engage with governments to deliver practical results.

All of these processes concluded that if we proceed at the usual pace, we will take another century and the cost of that to women and girls and to all of society, government, and economies is one we cannot afford.

So this is an acceleration moment—one that Member States signaled when they vowed full, accelerated and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform for action, and vowed to achieve gender equality by 2030 and with concrete progress recorded by 2020 in the CSW59 political declaration.

As agreed upon in that political declaration, 2020 should be seized upon as the positive moment—perfect vision moment if you will—to mark concrete results achieved, to take stock, to review and conduct follow up on the implementation of all commitments to the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Project and to make sure we are on course for Planet 50/50 by 2030. So it may be timely to use this 2020 opportunity to launch the idea of a 5th World Conference for Women with an implementation focus.

Now, as the success of the Gender Equality Compact in Agenda 2030, Financing for Development Conference and Beijing+20 have shown, we can more confidently mobilize around the idea of a World Conference on and for women in 2020 that takes advantage of the comprehensive normative framework agreed upon in 2015 with Gender Equality and Women's empowerment at its centre, and use existing and new tools for convening, advocacy and implementation to enhance our impact as agents of transformation and get States and other stakeholders to hold themselves accountable for accelerating progress.

They undertook to strengthen laws policies and measures and their implementation and to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes, to significantly increase investment to close the gender resource gap including through prioritization in Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) and in domestic resource mobilization, to strengthen data monitoring and accountability and, last but not least, to strengthen gender machineries and institutions in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women. They also recognized the role of civil society and women's organizations in full and committed to support them in the accelerated implementation of Beijing, as well as to provide a safe and enabling environment.

These elements are reiterated in what I call the Gender Compact of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At UN Women, we take heart in the potential of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for transforming the lives of women and girls throughout the world and call upon you to educate both governments and the public on the significance of what has been committed.

We have secured a Gender Equality Compact in 2030 Agenda—underpinned by the political declaration of CSW59 and with gender equality specific goals and targets integrated across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, making them actionable and achievable. We have a normative framework grounded in human rights treaties like CEDAW, and supported by the Beijing Platform for Action as a foundational sustainable development framework—not only a gender equality one. There is commitment to significantly increase investment to close the gender gap and to strengthen support to institutions in relation to gender equality and women’s empowerment at the global, regional and national levels.

This is apart from the potentially comprehensive, transformative, stand-alone SDG 5 to achieve (not just promote) gender equality and empower all women and girls as well as gender-sensitive targets in 11 other SDGs, ranging from poverty, health, education, food security to sustainable cities and full and productive employment. Please note that for the first time ending violence against women is a sustainable development objective overall (paragraph 20) and targets within! 

From a gender perspective, the sheer breadth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets represent a significant step forward from the limited gender commitments in the predecessor Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But this also means that we will have to work to make sure that the SDG 5 and the whole Gender Compact is prioritized in implementation of all SDGs. They must deliver for all women and girls and that is why it is not the end of history for intergovernmental norm-setting. Our work has just begun.

UN Women has developed a comprehensive global indicators framework to give effect to and measure progress on gender-related targets and these have been inserted into the 240 or so indicators that the UN Statistical Commission is going to finalize by March 2016. We call on you to socialize and adapt and advocate for that.

There is a commitment to a gender-sensitive data and follow-up and review process and civil society organizations and UN Women must work together and mobilize around this task with Member States at the global, regional and national levels to support and ensure implementation. At the global level, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) will be the nodal forum but CSW will be the mandated keystone for the gender equality agenda follow-up and review.

So what do we foresee to be the role of CSW starting with the CSW60 in the Beijing+20 and the 2030 Agenda era?

Firstly, CSW as the premier intergovernmental global forum for gender equality and women’s empowerment related policy dialogue and review as well as norms and standards-setting will be, and should be, focused on the "normative of implementation" as I would like to call it in relation to both Beijing and the Gender Equality Compact of Agenda 2030 and other UNGA/ECOSOC resolutions—particularly in relation to SDG 5 and gender-related targets in other goals.

The CSW should, through its deliberations, unpack and elaborate on the substance of the targets and set out a roadmap on the why, what and how of implementation and its acceleration. An implementation that is rights-based, inclusive, and forward-looking.

Beginning with CSW60 and its priority theme of “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development”, the upcoming session provides an ideal entry point to kick-start this process and offers unique opportunities to strengthen the accountability and rights agenda.

Substantive preparations have been done by UN Women and the Expert Group Meeting on the priority theme that was convened earlier this month, in which some of you participated, and will feed into the Reports of the Secretary-General for CSW60, which will be available by January 2016.

The CSW but also the other functional commissions have a role in supporting the global review and follow-up of the Gender Compact in the 2030 Agenda and to drive the link to full and effective implementation on the ground through a feed-in and feedback loop.

The CSW60 thus has a unique opportunity in providing clear guidance as to how SDG implementation needs to proceed from a gender equality perspective across the UN system—we had a very good discussion on that in the CEB—where we indicated that while UN Women has a central role, all UN agencies have a responsibility based on their comparative advantage and specialized expertise to support member states and we will use our interagency coordination mechanisms and role to ensure this.

The working methods approved at CSW 59 provide for more thorough review of implementation of norms—this time the review theme is the elimination of violence against women—and for voluntary peer reviews through country case studies.

To build a strong basis for immediate implementation, especially also in the context of the localization of the SDGs, the CSW60 must develop solid agreed conclusions:

1- The conclusions must give clear guidance as to how SDG implementation needs to proceed from a gender equality perspective, and what elements need to be in place.

Particular attention should be paid to legal, policy, institutional, financial, monitoring and accountability arrangements and mechanisms at country-level, as well as to resource and data challenges and gaps with the strengthening and resourcing of national gender mechanisms, statistical bureaus as well as civil society and women's organizations.

2- they must also give guidance on the role national gender equality advocates should play, how their advocacy and partnerships are instrumental in making the qualitative change that is necessary to actually move gender equality irrevocably to the centre of sustainable development.

The agreed conclusions need to be clear and practical so that they can be turned into actionable results at country level.

Second, the role of civil society is crucial in this regard.

It must be recognized that these achievements have been possible thanks to the strong and multifaceted partnership and alliance with civil society, especially women's networks at the global level and women’s organizations at the regional, sub-regional, national and grass-roots levels. The broader civil society constituencies from the development, environment and human rights spectrum were also mobilized to engender their advocacy and knowledge platforms in what has been one of the most consultative and grounds-up processes of protracted intergovernmental negotiations.

These achievements are also the proof that the intergovernmental space can be the space for a progressive and ambitious vision and an effective acceleration of the rights agenda. We effectively leveraged our regional and global CSW 57, 58 and 59 intergovernmental processes and substantive outcomes as well as the Beijing+20 review, commemoration campaigns and outcomes to drive a gender-equality-centred intergovernmental consensus in the 2030 Agenda.

Starting at country level, civil society must be engaged since the early preparatory stages and contribute to identify the key priorities for implementation of the gender equality agenda in their specific context. Our country offices will convene such consultations.

We will also convene Regional preparatory meetings—CSO and intergovernmental as well as a Multi-stakeholder Dialogue early next year ahead of CSW60 to prepare well. And we will continue to support the consultation and inclusion of civil society organizations in CSW processes, including in negotiations—and we bring you champion ambassadors here who can push this matter with Member States.

Partnerships and coalitions with parliamentarians, gender machineries, and civil society constituencies need to be nurtured—in fact national delegations to CSW need to be inclusive and be constituted from critical gender equality advocates and stakeholders in countries.

This means that civil society and women’s group leaders and advocates must be part of national delegations along with decision-makers in gender machineries and parliamentary caucuses—our Executive Director will make a call to all governments.

To strengthen the accountability discussions at CSW60, delegations must both contribute to the development of strong agreed conclusions at the CSW60 as well as be champions in their countries for their implementation. They must commit to translating the agreed conclusions into actionable results at country level, as well as ensure that the commitments and decisions of CSW60 have the necessary funding to be implemented at country level.


The discussions for the rest of today must focus on how to build these champion delegations at country level—what is required? What are the partnerships? How will these delegations work in the lead-up to CSW, at CSW and after CSW?

In addition to the national delegations, civil society will attend CSW60 in large numbers. Delegations must use the opportunity of the presence of so many civil society leaders to draw upon their expertise for implementation on the ground.

The Global Civil Society Dialogue session today must be able to stimulate new thinking and suggestions for collaborative strategies at country and regional levels to make CSW60 work for the women of the world.