UN Women Executive Director calls for gender equality in parliaments by 2030

Opening remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women CSW59 side event “Parliaments for Gender Equality: Priorities for Beijing+20 and beyond” honouring Parliamentary Day, held on 11 March, in New York.


[As delivered]

Thank you, Secretary-General for your remarks, and for the emphasis that you continue to put on partnership.

UN Women regards the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) as one of its most prized partners. We would like to further improve our collaboration. I would also want us to engage further with Member States – who are the real decision-makers – and I encourage you to do so during the Commission on the Status of Women.

I would like to also thank you for continuing to put the women at the centre of the IPU agenda. I am delighted that the review of Beijing+20 is just as important to you as it is to us.

Twenty years ago in Beijing, the countries that met were enthusiastic, and optimistic. They even thought that we were going to achieve gender equality by 2005.

The UN Secretary-General’s review and appraisal shows that we are far from achieving what we originally intended, but also that it is not impossible for us to catch up.

A record-breaking 167 countries completed national reviews of their progress towards the Beijing goals.

We reviewed every critical area agreed on in Beijing. In each one we have pointed out the gap and what needs to be done to bridge it. This has given us an exceptional and unprecedented perspective on progress.

It remains important for us to try to achieve the fulfilment of women’s rights - as they are human rights.

The inequality of representation in politics, economy and other areas is one aspect that we have not been able to address as fully as we wanted. The fact that no country has achieved gender equality requires strong action and strong attention.

We encourage the countries that are closer to that target of equality to go full steam ahead, and demonstrate how to break new ground.

In all countries, Parliamentarians have done a lot of work in adopting legislation to support all the critical areas of the Beijing Platform of Action. Data show that in almost every country there was a law that was either repealed, passed or amended in order to address gender equality. Constitutions in some countries have been amended in order to comply with The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The UN itself has also made progress in terms of the resolutions passed. The undeniable legacy of the last 20 years is that the normative landscape has changed.

What has not been done, however, is to change the attitudes that the laws are supposed to have an impact on — the attitudes that perpetuate inequality. The culture of male superiority remains in most of our countries; the stereotypes that diminish women remain in many of our countries.

In all countries of the world, women’s talents and leadership remain grossly undervalued. This unfortunately subverts the gains that we should have made from the good laws passed.

There remains an unresolved clash between modern laws and customary practice, which has robbed us of the benefit of some of the critical, sometimes life-saving, laws.

Excellencies, we have to find a way of addressing this tension between the good laws that fundamentally address gender equality and customary practices, and the laws that work against them. To have both co-existing means that we are not taking the steps forward that we think we are taking. This is an area that I flag for your attention.

Effective action also is required in addressing the issue of leadership.

The review shows unequivocally that there has been a move from 11 to 22 per cent in terms of women’s political representation. In some countries the levels are above that average. Overall, however, this is an area in which we need to be moving much faster. I know that this is in the realm of political parties, but you are Members of Parliament from political parties, so I think that you could help us a lot with that.

IPU has done excellent work in galvanizing action in order to support advocacy.

As individuals, in your constituencies, and collectively as parliamentary groups reaching across party divides, you have played – and can further play – an essential role in making sure that there is greater advocacy and decisiveness at the political party level.

The engagement of political parties is very important. This is the root of decision-making. If we are to move forward and harvest the excellent benefits that should come from the new normative landscape that you have created—we have to address and transform discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes.

This is not a soft issue. It’s a make-or-break issue for progress. We have to deal with some of the constituencies that are custodians of some of the norms, including traditional leaders or religious leaders in our countries.

We must also look beyond “averages” to monitor the impacts and results of laws and policies for women and girls who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. We have seen that when there has been a targeted approach that goes beyond looking at averages, we have made progress.

For instance, we have made more progress in countries where poverty alleviation programmes were designed and customized to target women. We have also seen this where gender machinery was designed to work in a more specific and targeted way. We fully appreciate the fact that many Parliamentarians were behind the formation of gender machineries in their country; most of it had to be passed by law.  

Gender equality and women’s empowerment must be integrated in the post-2015 development agenda.

Once the agenda is agreed, countries should frontload national actions to achieve substantial progress by 2020, and full equality by 2030. I count on you in this process to bring forward the policymakers, and to work actively with civil society and women’s organizations.

The ambitious post-2015 agenda needs an ambitious gender agenda.

We rely on you to drive forward the repealing of laws that still discriminate against women in 128 countries.

We rely on you to make sure that the issue of equal representation in decision-making bodies in all our countries is addressed with the intention to achieve and to reach 50-50 before 2030.

We are watching to make sure that it does not take us another 50 years to reach gender equality in Parliament—which is what is projected now—and we look to you to make sure that it will not take us another 81 years to reach gender equality in the economy, as it is projected now.

Before closing, I also invite men and boys in all the countries to be partners and to be active in the HeForShe campaign.

I thank you and I look forward to our collaboration.