“Gender equality is a shared vision of social justice and human rights” – Executive Director

Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the High-level Thematic Debate on advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, 6 March 2015 at UN Headquarters in New York.


[As delivered]

Your Excellency Sam Kutesa, President of the General Assembly,
Your Excellency, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
Your Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia,
Your Excellency Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President of Croatia,
Your Excellency Ahmet Davutoğlu, Prime Minister of Turkey,
Your Excellency Michaëlle Jean, Secretary-General, La Francophonie
Ms. Sivananthi Thanenthiran,
Miss Nohelia,
Excellencies, Honoured guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We at UN Women are delighted that you are all here for this wonderful celebration of International Women’s Day. My thanks to the President of the General Assembly for this special event as well as for his unfailing support for the agenda for women. I also thank you all for this morning’s inspiring speeches.

We look ahead this year with excitement as we set our sights on the creation of a world with greater equality for generations to come. We are the first generation to have the possibility of an end to poverty and gender inequality.

As our Secretary-General has just said, we cannot successfully address sustainable development challenges if we constrain the potential of half the world’s population. We cannot win if we leave half of the team out of the game. That is why the Special Summit on Sustainable Development should adopt a bold agenda that fully values the role of women and girls.  It must aim for significant progress by 2020 and gender equality before 2030.

So, how will we reach this ambitious goal of a transformed world with gender equality?

Let me suggest three vital requirements: tireless political will and unwavering leadership; increased investments in the agenda for women and girls; and strong accountability that includes a role for civil society.

Gender equality is a shared vision of social justice and human rights.   

Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights. 

In addition, we call for concerted, practical measures to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and to remove the root causes of gender inequality. 

To reach our ambitious goals in 2030 with substantive progress by 2020, we ask governments as our primary duty-bearers to:

  • Repeal discriminatory laws that inhibit the economic ability of women, their ability to obtain credit and own land, to move freely, and to make decisions about their own bodies and health.
  • Fully implement existing laws so that, for example, violence against women does not go unpunished.
  • Enact new laws where no laws exist in specific areas.
  • Introduce quotas and temporary special measures to support the increased proportion of women parliamentarians and all decision-making bodies.
  • Invest in statistical capacities and gender statistics to support effective monitoring and evidence-driven decision-making.

We need collaboration with civil society, and a strong women’s movement in every country, and in every part of the world. And we need civil society to continue to be the torch-bearers.

The private sector also has a very significant role to play in making game-changing investment in the economic empowerment of women.

  • Far-reaching changes to employment terms and conditions for women.
  • Equal pay for men and women by all employers. Where governments are non-compliant they also must take corrective action.
  • Decent work.
  • All companies should implement the Women’s Empowerment Principles, for example, promote education, training and professional development for women.

Very importantly trade unions must fight convincingly for gender equality. They must become game-changers. They too must undergo an internal transformation and simultaneously fight for gender parity in the workplace and in the world.

Macroeconomic policies should enable State investment in infrastructure, social services and social protection measures in order to reduce the burden of unpaid care work on women and child labour on girls and boys.

The clash between constitutional law and customary law has to be addressed, so as to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes, because we cannot create the future we want while we leave patriarchy intact.

Men and boys must lead in disrupting patriarchy as well as leading their own behaviour change and the positive socialization of boys.  

Let me share a few UN Women tips towards dismantling patriarchy. We are giving responsibility to those who sit at the high table.

  • All men and women decision-makers must take the lead on ending the exclusion of women from decision-making bodies. They must fight for gender parity.
  • Men and boys must lead on ending violence against women. They must prevent it and see to the successful prosecution of perpetrators.
  • We need CEOs, Heads of State, and men in general to lead the fight against unequal pay in private and public sector. To refuse pay cheques that are unequal to their counterparts.
  • Men must refuse to marry children and they must lead the campaign to end female genital mutilation/cutting.
  • We need men and boys to stand up against videogames that perpetuate stereotypes and expose boys to violence against women, making sexual exploitation a game and something that is normal.

That is what it means to be a HeForShe: active and lived positive masculinity. We have already seen men and boys taking up this challenge. We thank the Secretary-General for his Network of Male leaders, which is contributing strongly to building a large network of supportive and like-minded male champions.

We ask all of you to mobilize more men and boys to sign up for HeforShe. We still need many more men to step forward. We thank our Permanent Representatives for the action they have taken here at the United Nations Headquarters early this year when they convened their own dialogue on positive masculinity. I thank again the Permanent Representatives of Iceland and Suriname who led this initiative, called the Barbershop Conference.

When all the actions I have mentioned are done together: the enacting, repealing and implementing of laws; the roles of civil society and women, the roles of the private sector, of trade unions, of men and boys, and the combined roles and responsibilities of all leaders –this is what can move us forward in the post-2015 development agenda towards ending poverty and gender inequality. It is in our hands.

In the 20 years after Beijing we have seen slow progress in all the critical areas that were agreed to in the Beijing Platform for Action.

We have also seen countries that have taken seriously the universality of our mandate. We have seen countries where there are no harmful practices like FGM, who are championing and leading the end of these practices elsewhere. We have seen countries where there is no conflict, such as Finland, championing and leading the promotion of peace and security. We have seen countries in Africa cooperating to defeat Ebola. We appreciate this universality, and see it as important in fighting against violence against women, and indeed throughout our mandate.

We will know that we have succeeded in our efforts when:

  • all women have equal rights, and equal access to justice, power, resources and opportunities;
  • all women and girls live their lives free from all forms of violence and discrimination;
  • women can make decisions about their bodies, health and sexuality, free from discrimination, violence and coercion;
  • all women who work enjoy equal pay for equal work opportunities and equal  access to decent work;
  • unpaid care work is fairly shared between men and women and no longer presents a barrier for women’s and girls’ participation in social, political and economic life;
  • women have equal voice, participation and leadership in decision-making at all levels, including in peace and security discussions; and
  • persistent gender stereotypes about women and men and girls and boys, are not second nature, and discriminatory norms and attitudes and beliefs no longer limit opportunities and outcomes.

This is not mission impossible.

Mr. President, this generation, and these Sustainable Development Goals – if not diluted – can go a long way to achieve these changes.

The findings of the Secretary-General’s global review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, to be unveiled on 9 March at the opening of the Commission on the Status of Women, provide important lessons for the post-2015 development agenda.

I ask you to join our International Women’s Day March on 8 March, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and to call for gender parity.

Planet 50-50 before 2030. We call on everyone – and especially our leaders – to “Step it up for gender equality”.

Gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls must be central to the new development agenda.

We ask you to protect the goal on gender equality, and the integration of gender perspectives throughout the development framework. Today, on International Women’s Day, on behalf of the women of the world, that is what I ask of Member States.

Let us make 2030 an expiry date for gender inequality and to aim to achieve this before 2030, and to make solid and irreversible progress by 2020.

Thank you.

Listen to remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the United Nations Observance of International Women's Day 2015