“This agreement must make sure that the women have a better deal”—Executive Director at COP 21

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Charity gala for the French National Committee, 7 December 2015, Paris.


Mme. Pascale Boistard, State Secretary for Women’s Rights,
Ms. Miren Bengoa, President of the French National Committee for UN Women,
Members of the French National Committee for UN Women,
Colleagues, friends
Ladies and gentlemen.

It is an honour for me to be here with you today. I am grateful to the French National Committee for UN Women and their partners, Sciences Po & HEC Alumni’s, Baker and BCG, for organizing this event. I am delighted also that today we have among us France’s State Secretary for Women’s Rights, Madame Pascale Boistard. This speaks volumes about the strong partnerships that we have in France, and that we look forward to deepening further.

The Paris attacks

On behalf of UN Women, I wish to express our solidarity with the people of France and commend your resilience in the face of the tragedy of 13 November. As our world experiences the ordeals of violent extremism and mass displacement, we must stand together in unity, and strongly assert the counter-narrative of peace, gender equality, sustainability and shared prosperity. We are with you, along with so many people across the world, on the path for peace.

French National Committee

The French National Committee is an important partner in the work that we do as UN Women. It is our newest, but very dynamic Committee. In the two years of existence the Committee has truly made its mark, and I really think that the members deserve applause. I am so impressed with the way they have been able to reach out to the French community and to attract very high-level partners and friends, some of whom are here today.

The year 2015

So now we are here in Paris. We are coming to the end of an important year—a watershed moment in which a lot has happened. Over the last 15 years we implemented the Millennium Development Goals. At midnight on 31 December of this year, we will retire them and the Sustainable Development Goals will kick in. What a privilege it is to live at this time.

This year 2015 is 20 years since we adopted and began implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This year we also reviewed 15 years of implementing the very important agreement on women, peace and security: UN Security Council resolution 1325. We have learned a lot from all of these activities for these internationally agreed-upon goals, and that is why we are ready for the Sustainable Development Goals, another set of goals agreed to by nations. We are also ready for the agreement that we are busy negotiating here in Paris because we know that when nations work together, change happens.

When we implemented the Millennium Development Goals, we decreased maternal deaths, we increased access to girls’ education, we were able to make the plight of women in poverty visible, and indeed we also decreased poverty. So we know that when nations have got headlines and timeframes and singlemindedness, change can happen, and this is what we are asking for in the climate agreement that is now being negotiated.

Speaking at our Global Leaders' Meeting on 27 September 2015, President Hollande said: “The goal is to enable all girls in the world to freely go to school, to have access to work, to also be able to found their own businesses, and to be able to be autonomous and independent in their lives.” The agreement we are negotiating now is part and parcel of the different instruments that the world can have in order to make this life for women and girls happen.

This year is also important because here in this town we launched UN Women’s HeForShe campaign in France. In this campaign we reach out to men and boys in order for them to have the opportunity to take a stand for gender equality. We know that there are many men around the world who want to do the right thing, but sometimes there just are not enough structures and entry points to express their commitment to gender equality. When they keep quiet and are unable to express their views on gender equality, we deny ourselves a constituency that can help to advance our goals. We must also make sure that those who are hesitant about playing a role are encouraged to come forward. Nelson Mandela once said: “If good men do not take a stand and act, they conspire against women.” We do not want that conspiracy, so HeForShe provides an opportunity for men to participate.

I am also glad to say that Sciences Po, the university, is a partner in this campaign. It is one of the 10 universities that have signed up to actively mobilize students, young men and young women at university level, to be focused on advancing gender equality, and to transform itself so that it is a more gender-equal institution. It is also committed to address and to promote positive masculinity within its student body as well as paternity leave for university staff.

So, why are we in Paris now?

COP 21 and climate

Climate change represents one of the greatest challenges to the peaceful, prosperous and sustainable development of society. We know that women are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We also know that if women are truly engaged and afforded an opportunity to lead, we can make addressing the challenge of climate change a shared responsibility. The quality of the contribution that women would be able to make will ensure that our objectives will be achieved much faster and in a more inclusive way.

We know that women are critical agents of change in key sectors such as agriculture, and this is one of the sectors that is under threat from climate change. Women are about 40 per cent of those who produce the food that we eat around the world, but they own less than 20 per cent of the land. This agreement must make sure that the women have a better deal.

We also know that women around the world are household managers of energy. If women are not involved in understanding how energy is a dimension of climate change, we rob ourselves of an opportunity for women to play an active role. Women need to understand when not to harvest the forest. Women also are victims of bad energy provision into households because they inhale smoke in houses where poor energy is provided. Women are also responsible for fetching water in countries that are poor, and where the houses they live in do not have water. Little girls are deployed, with their tiny little legs, to go to the river, to carry back big buckets, in order to quench the thirst of muscular men. This is because the water infrastructure does not adequately address the needs of society. It should not be acceptable that a little girl misses school; that she doesn’t play because she is fetching water. This agreement has to understand that when we resolve the problem of water we actually liberate little girls.

Madame Boistard has been at the forefront of highlighting women’s key role in fighting climate change. Thank you so much for your voice, including at France’s conference “Climate: Women are getting involved!” in October, where you highlighted some of these issues. I am also very pleased that my Deputy, Yannick Glemarec, will speak today. He is a climatologist by background, and will also share some of the specific challenges, as well as the solutions. We know that for some of the problems we are discussing there are solutions.

Let us finish the year by working together to fight against climate change and gender inequality.

I count on our longstanding partnership and commitment and the friendship of the people of France to make this happen!

Thank you.