“The struggle is not over, so stay with it until we have been able to deliver”—Executive Director in DRC

Speech by UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the “High-Level Dialogue on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Commitment for Action!” in Kinshasa, DRC, on 4 December 2015.


H.E. Mr. Matata Ponyo, DRC Prime Minister,
H.E. Mrs. Lucie Kipele Aky-Azu, Minister of Gender, Family and Children’s Affairs
Mr. Maman Sambo Sidikou, UN Special Representative to the SG in DRC
Your excellencies, ambassadors,
Colleagues from the UN,
Leaders from civil society, and young people who are here with us,

It is a pleasure to be here. I feel already that I have been here for a week, although it is just three days, because of the intense interaction that we have already had, and I want to thank you for that.

I also want to thank His Excellency Matata Ponyo, Prime Minister of DRC, in particular, for making the time to be available with us here. One of the most important things for leaders is time. If you can invest time in an issue—tick! That means that you are committed to the issue, so thank you so much. I also want to celebrate with you the progress that you’ve made in growing the economy and in dealing with complex and very profound issues affecting the DRC.

We have heard from Ms. Mabunda about the kind of progress that has been made in fighting gender-based violence, especially in the persecution of perpetrators. I want to congratulate you, my sister, and I want to encourage you. I want to say that we expect even more from you, from the Prime Minister, and from each of you here today because we know that you are equal to the task and that you are committed. Africa needs African solutions and that is exactly what we are doing, so congratulations on that.

I also want to congratulate civil society and the women’s movement of the Congo for perseverance and resilience. You have been there, some of you, since Sun City. I remember that time very well; many of us were still very young then. The fact that we are here today is truly a tribute. It shows that we are committed. I need to tell you that the struggle is not over, so stay with it until we have been able to deliver, through the Sustainable Development Goals, the change that the people of the Congo and the people of Africa deserve.

So, courage my sisters!

I also want to pay tribute to the women from the many communities that have been affected, communities that have felt sometimes isolated, and among everything else, communities that stood up and continued to move forward, notwithstanding the challenges.

I want to commend the young people who, in the face of many challenges, chose to go to school, chose to finish their universities, chose to go to the public sector, and chose to become well-adjusted citizens and to serve their nations and their communities. This is the way to be.

Ending violence against women is linked to economic well-being

We are here now to celebrate the 16 Days of Activism. We are here to Orange the World; to shine a light on violence against women, to highlight the possibility of a brighter future for women and girls all over the world. This campaign is being celebrated all across the globe. As we speak, it is serving a purpose in highlighting gender-based violence in all the continents of the world, and in almost all the countries that are Member States of the United Nations. The reason why this campaign is so intense is because the problem of violence against women and girls occurs in every country in the world—the rich, the poor, the developed, and the developing—and the need to address this issue is therefore a major priority for the United Nations.

I also want to highlight the importance of ensuring that, as we fight to end this scourge of violence against women, we focus on prevention. We are much better off saving the women and girls from suffering the impacts of violence than we are healing them from the scars that they suffer after they have experienced violence. I know that to talk about prevention is easier said than done, but our ambition and our bigger goal has to be to live in a world where women and girls do not experience violence in the first place.

We know that women’s leadership plays a significant role in reducing the violence against women in all countries; because this violence is experienced at home, it is experienced in schools, it is experienced at work, it is experienced in communities, it is experienced on the sports fields, it is experienced everywhere where human beings are. So, as UN Women, we have been highlighting the fact that this problem is complex and it needs comprehensive interventions and solutions. In identifying best practices we have identified some of the key elements on which we need to build.

First, leadership and zero tolerance. In countries where we are beginning to see a modest turnaround, zero tolerance, consistency and showing that there are no mixed messages and conflicting statements between the leaders in this issue is very important. Secondly, legislation that supports ending gender-based violence, that is implemented robustly, is also important. The training of personnel who will implement that legislation is important, as is ensuring that, from the social workers, to the police officers, to the magistrates, to the judges, everybody knows what they are supposed to do. And, of course, another important best practice for intervention that we have seen work in many countries is investment in education, in which the value of peace and respect for all men and women is part of the ethos of the education system.

We have also seen that in countries with a strong civil society at grass-roots level that dispenses informal education, and that ensures that the gender stereotypes and change of behaviour is part and parcel of community activities, change is made possible. Increasingly, we are also seeing the important role of men and boys. That is why at UN Women we also regard that intervention as important. Men are half of the society in any country, in any community, and therefore we will not be able to find solutions when men do not take responsibility, when men are not involved. When men take a stand and say: “I will not beat up a woman, I will not rape a women, I will not marry a child,” we will see significant change in society.

So, we are talking about ensuring that violence against women is prevented, that women are protected, that perpetrators are effectively prosecuted, and that there is provision of services that make sure that women can heal and that women can recover. We know that that takes a long time. It is not an overnight task. The provision of services also includes services such as economic empowerment, such as education, such as ensuring that women know their rights and that the dispensing of justice is swift, because justice delayed is also part of the problem that we see in many countries.

Women, peace and security in DRC

Women, peace and security is also a critical component of our work in the DRC. We know from extensive research that we have done on the last 15 years of implementing Security Council resolution 1325, that the involvement of women in peacebuilding is one of the critical elements that makes peace sustainable. In the countries that we studied, where women participated actively in peace-making and in conflict prevention, the chances of the sustainability of peace increases significantly. In part, this is because women, when they were involved with the negotiation, were not concerned with settling a score with an opponent. They were concerned about reconciliation; they were concerned about ceasefire; they were concerned about development; they were concerned about reconstruction; they were concerned about stopping direct exploitation of young people and about creating a generation that was not at war and that made peace durable. So it is an expensive omission when countries do not involve women effectively in conflict prevention, in peacemaking, and in the negotiation of peace.

As we speak, there has been an increase of consultation of civil society and women’s organizations whenever there are peace negotiations in countries, but women have not been represented at the highest levels in many of these peace agreements. And women have not been appointed at the highest level in the numbers that are appropriate in the institutions that are responsible for keeping peace. That again is an area in which correction is needed. For instance, only 3 per cent of peacekeepers are women, and in many countries the proportions of personnel in the security and in the police forces is again very skewed: only 10 per cent in the police force and only 3 per cent in the military are women. This again is an expensive omission that countries cannot afford, because when women are involved in the security forces, and in peacekeeping, we see that the peacekeeping missions are even more effective, are even more approachable. They are also able to decrease the incidence of violence within the mission, and of violence by the mission against the citizens they are looking after.

Agenda 2030 and gender equality and women’s empowerment

Gender equality is a prerequisite for sustainable development. We have just adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, and we have in many ways made sure that gender is an integral part of these goals. We have made sure that, not only is gender mainstreamed in each and every goal, but also that the goal that focuses on women is more substantive and is intense—much more intense than it was during the Millennium Development Goals.

The SDGs aim to leave no-one behind. They are about people; they are about the planet; they are about shared prosperity between nations and within nations; and they are about peace.

I think that these goals are written for the DRC. We know that in this country we do not want to leave anyone behind. As a global community, when we talk about not leaving anyone behind we are talking about women and girls, who in every country are at the bottom of society. We also talk about those countries who, despite investing in development, have not been able to provide the development that they wish to their citizens. The Sustainable Development Goals give us a global agenda to collaborate effectively so that we do not leave anyone behind.

They are about the planet. We know that the planet is important to all of us; that looking after the planet is a universal responsibility of the citizens around the world. The SDGs talk about shared prosperity. That also addresses inequality within countries and between countries. We know today that when some countries are extremely poor—for instance when Somalia does not develop—then refugees—economic refugees, as well as those who are running away from war—will turn up in the countries where prosperity is real or perceived. So it is therefore important for all the countries of the world to work together in order to improve development and to end hunger and poverty everywhere.

I do not want to say more about peace, because I think here in the DRC we know why peace is important. But investment in peace has to start at an early age. It has to involve children. Women, as far as I am concerned, are one of the biggest underutilized resources when it comes to peacebuilding and making sure that peace is sustainable. So, investing in women is not just a nice thing to do. It is a necessary intervention for us to achieve what we want to achieve in the 21st century.

At UN Women we talk about achieving Planet 50-50 by 2030, which is about achieving substantive equality by 2030. As we implement the SDGs we must make critical and strategic choices. What will tilt the balance? In the last 20 years, as we implemented the Beijing Platform for Action we have been very busy, but we did not achieve the change that we wanted. In part, we did not always make strategic choices. We were working hard but not always working smart. What we want to focus on in the SDGs are interventions that are transformative, interventions that are tilting the scale in the favour of sustainable development and change that is durable and that impacts on women.

We therefore see the fight to end violence against women as one of the important targets within the Sustainable Development Goals. This has to be achieved by every country, because violence against women is the most dehumanizing form of discrimination which is suffered by women in most countries of the world—but it is much worse in some countries than others. And where we do not prosecute perpetrators, we actually condone this dehumanization of women.

In the Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 5—which is focusing on gender—addresses ending violence against women. It focuses on ending all forms of discrimination against women, which means that we have to address the 122 countries where there is still legislation that discriminates against women. I know that here in the Congo, the women told me, what we want more than anything else is to make sure that there is alignment between the Constitution and actual law so that we can encourage, support and facilitate greater participation of women in leadership.

Goal number 5 also talks about access to reproductive services and respect for women’s reproductive rights. We know that when women’s bodies are not respected, when women do not have control over how they plan their families, when they do not have access to family-planning services, the world will not prosper. So, Goal 5 focuses also on that aspect.

Goal 5 also focuses on cultural practices that are harmful to women and children. It cites specifically female genital mutilation and early marriages. We know there are other practices that are harmful to women and children, but those two also affect us here in Africa and we can actually build programmes to make sure that they are turned around.

Goal 5 also talks about participation and leadership, and the representation of women at all levels of decision-making; in the economy, in politics and in society. Now, if we implement all of the goals, if we implement Goal 5, if we fully implement the Beijing Platform for Action, that is a lot of work that can truly change the quality of life of women. Our duty is to support our governments to live up to these agreements that they have signed, to these commitments that they have made, because we know that these are ambitious but also that they are not impossible.

We are the generation, for the first time in history, with the real possibility to bring down poverty substantively. We are the first generation in history with a real possibility to change the relations between men and women in such a way that gender equality is significant and lasting. But we are also the last generation with a possibility to stop the climate catastrophe. What an exciting time to live. What a responsibility to have. As Frantz Fanon said: "Each generation must...discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”. We have to ask: are we going to betray this mission or achieve our ambition?

The DRC is one of the countries that must take leadership in this. We are relying on you to continue the trajectory of change, to make sure that you use all of the instruments that you have, in order to bring a much better future and quality of life for women and girls, and men and boys in the Congo.

I thank you my sisters, again and I want to help you on your way.

The Prime Minister is one of the men we are deploying in the forefront of gender equality as a HeforShe. We are asking him to make a contract with the women of the Congo and the women of the world to stand for gender equality, and to mobilize for us the millions and millions of women that we have in the Congo not to be silent. As Nelson Mandela said, when women’s rights were being trampled: “If good men do not take a stand and act, they conspire against women.” We do not want this Prime Minister to conspire.

Thank you.