We – you – will accept nothing less than a 50-50 Planet – Executive Director

Lecture delivered by UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, on 11 June, addressing the Gender Equality: 50-50 by 2030 commitment, at Chatham House, London.


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Robin Niblett,

Chatham House Members,

Ladies and gentlemen.

It is an honour and a pleasure for me to be with you this evening.  I thank Chatham House for this privilege.

Today I am going to address the challenge we have set the world – to achieve a 50:50 Planet by the year 2030. What will it take to achieve gender equality – a 50-50 balance in the next 15 years?

Let me first recall some fundamental assertions on this to which we as a world have signed up.

Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:  “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  That was in 1948.

In 1995, in Beijing, China, 189 countries agreed to the most comprehensive plan ever written for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 97 per cent of all sovereign states reaffirmed their “commitment to: …the equal rights and inherent human dignity of women and men”.

That was very promising.

Twenty years on, in 2015, we reviewed the implementation of that commitment.

To do this, 167 countries conducted searching national reviews, followed by consolidated assessment by regional commissions, in parallel with civil society’s critical consideration and feedback.

The UN Secretary-General presented a global synthesis report to the Commission on the Status of Women in March this year.

The goal of achieving gender equality by 2030 was set in the Political Declaration adopted by the Commission, with substantial progress expected in the first five years.

The review results provided cause for celebration of advances in girls’ enrolment in primary and secondary education, and of women’s more active participation in the labour force, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean (an increase from 44 per cent to 54 per cent between 1992 and 2012).

Most regions have taken steps forward in increasing women’s access to contraception with especially good progress in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Many governments have enacted new laws to promote gender equality and address violence against women and girls.

However, 20 years on, the hard truth is that many of the same barriers and constraints that were recognized by the Beijing signatories still exist globally.

On their own, the laws and public commitments were not enough to ensure that governments took sufficient action.

No country in the world has achieved gender equality.

In fact, we are alarmingly unequal.

Overall, implementation of the Platform for Action has been slow and uneven, with serious stagnation and even regression in several areas. This is particularly true for the most marginalized women and girls, who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

Violence against women – a sure marker of unequal power relations – remains what the World Health Organization terms “a global epidemic”.

Today I want to focus your attention on both the tension between public commitment and action, and on the degree of everyday discrimination.

Both of these elements hold keys to the work we are undertaking on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Although at least 125 countries have outlawed sexual harassment and domestic violence, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.

No country is free of violence against women.

It is a question only of degree – in some national violence studies, levels rise to 70 per cent of women affected. Three quarters of women in management and higher professional positions in the European Union have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Early marriage is a violation of human rights. Yet more than 30 per cent of today’s women were married before their 18th birthday.

But change is underway: the African Union has just adopted a common position on ending child marriage. This is the kind of concerted leadership and commitment that is needed for transformative change.  Traditions around early marriage are often deeply rooted in social norms that are the most difficult to shift.

What would happen if men just said no?

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have told Heads of State and ministers that the 2015 review findings are an indictment of a catastrophic failure of leadership.

The reality is that the laws that have been put in place are not being implemented.

When we consider that worldwide only 22 per cent of parliamentarians are women, this perhaps becomes less surprising.

We estimate that at the current rate of increase – glacial – it will take another 50 years to reach equality in government positions.

 The vast majority – the 78 per cent men in government - are not acting to implement the laws that are already in place to eliminate or reduce discrimination.

As long as the majority of lawmakers and law enforcers are male, and the status quo unchallenged, the cultural structures remain that keep girls out of school and decent jobs, and that permit their unlawful marriage as children.

The structures remain that give impunity to men who rape or assault girls and women.

The structures remain that maintain unequal salaries and vast unpaid care burden on women.

This is a cycle that needs to be broken.

The solution includes making the deficit between law and customary practice visible, and making it unacceptable.

Ladies and gentlemen, 30 per cent is widely considered an important benchmark for women’s representation in government.

Quotas and special measures have been successful for the achievement of increased participation.

In January 2015, 41 single or lower houses of parliament globally were composed of more than 30 per cent women, including 11 in Africa and 9 in Latin America. Out of the 41 countries, 34 had applied some form of quotas opening space for women’s political participation.

The change process includes building critical mass, and explicitly addressing the leaks in the candidate pipeline.

The just- concluded G7’s Leaders’ Declaration Outcome Document explicitly recognized women’s entrepreneurship as “a key driver of innovation, growth and jobs.”

The International Labour Organization this year stated that “women’s ever increasing participation in the labour market has been the biggest engine of global growth and competitiveness.”

If female employment were to match male employment – we could increase GDP everywhere –by 5 per cent in the United States, 12 per cent in the United Arab Emirates and 34 per cent in Egypt.

In our flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, we explore how the widespread failures to respect rights witnessed in the Beijing reviews have played out in economic terms and what we have to do to  achieve substantive equality – and build an economy that works for women.

We are recovering from a global economic crisis – but that recovery has been jobless.

Globally, women do nearly two and a half times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men.

This is an opportunity for change.

In the United States, the total value of unpaid childcare services in 2012 was estimated to be USD $3.2 trillion.

Where public services are missing – like safe water sources, enough health care workers, care facilities for both young children and elderly parents – the deficit is currently made up primarily by women and girls.

This is a care penalty that unfairly punishes women for stepping in to provide what is missing.

It has a quantifiable cost:

Data from France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey suggest that women earn between 31 per cent and 75 per cent less than men over their lifetimes.

Everywhere in the world women are paid less than men for the same job.

The global gender pay gap is currently 24 per cent.

When women have children, the pay gap widens. This is a motherhood penalty. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the presence of children in the household is associated with gender pay gaps of 31 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.

We are addressing this through making public the scale of wage discrimination.

It is only by getting employers to confront their discriminatory practices that we can challenge them to change.

I have just come from the World Economic Forum in South Africa.

I publically asked private sector leaders of multinational companies if they paid men and women equally for the same job.

Not one could tell me. They were all men.

I have challenged them to check their profiles for any embarrassing gender pay gaps. And to declare publically when they have addressed them.

Men, as currently the majority of employers, CEOs and decision makers in companies, have enormous potential to make direct and far-reaching change in the employment environment for women.

Men can make some crucial adjustments.

For example, by taking responsibility for reducing and redistributing the unpaid care burden in their own homes and communities, by taking paternity leave, by supporting flexible working hours, and by refusing unequal pay.

Men can refuse to sit on boards or committees that lack gender balance.

They can call out their colleagues when they see recruitment policies that do not support increased representation of women.

They can just say no.

Ladies and gentlemen, achieving gender equality is a transformative enterprise.

It is about disruption.

It is about breaking social norms and harmful stereotypes that limit opportunities for women and girls and restrict men and boys to certain roles.

The reconfiguration of power relations, transforming masculinities and traditional perceptions of manhood are at the heart of this agenda. 

It requires men to question and challenge power dynamics in their actions or their words and to take responsibility for change.

It also requires women to continue to take responsibility for change.

Women also contribute to sustaining gender stereotypes and harmful masculinities.

Men’s decisions and behaviours are profoundly shaped by these expectations related to masculinity.

We know that social and cultural norms about masculinities shape power relations and gender inequalities.

We need to use this as a positive influence.

From an early age, boys are socialized into gender roles that keep men in power and control.

Many grow up to believe that dominant behaviour towards girls and women is part of being a man.

Systematically changing this narrative is important.

Encouraging men and boys to choose deliberately to act in positive ways lies behind the launch of UN Women’s HeForShe campaign in September last year. 

This campaign aims to engage and mobilize men and boys in a far-reaching solidarity movement, and to support them to become advocates for gender equality.

Through a new initiative called “IMPACT10x10x10”, HeForShe is mobilizing waves of global leaders in three key areas: corporations, governments and universities.

In each of the three areas, at least 10 leaders will spearhead mobilization and change programmes that can be widely replicated.

Political leaders including from Finland, Iceland, Japan, Malawi, Norway, Romania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sweden have already offered their support.

The CEOs of Unilever, PriceWaterhouseCooper, Accor, Koc Holding and Tupperware have committed to bold changes including achievement of pay equality and gender parity in management.

The cohort of universities so far committing to HeForShe as part of our IMPACT programme include: the University of Hong Kong, the University of Leicester, Nagoya University in Japan, University of Witwatersarand, and University of Waterloo.

Each partnership can cascade others – and reach constituencies that may not otherwise hear our voice.

Behaviour change is a massive undertaking; confronting unconscious bias and stereotyping is one way to start the process.

The degree of that stereotyping can be shocking when we confront it and bring it out into the open.

Ladies and gentlemen, how do you find out how people feel about women being equal to men?

Well, on 9 March 2013, we Googled it.

With Memac Ogilvy, we used Google’s “autocomplete” function, fed by over 6 billion searches daily, to test this upbeat phrase: “Women should…”.

What resulted was like catching the world’s collective brain in an unguarded moment – a Rorschach inkblot test for gender equality.

The top two results were “women should stay at home” and “women should be slaves”.

The top three “shouldn’t” search results were: “women shouldn’t have rights”, “women shouldn’t vote” and “women shouldn’t work”.

The ubiquity and virulence of these stereotypes shocked us all.

The combination of control over women and their exclusion from rights chillingly echoes the current behaviour of extremist groups out there like Islamic State, or Boko Haram.


Yet this behaviour is not “out there”, it is domesticated –  it’s “here”.

We have to take every opportunity to recognize it, bring it into the open, and deal with it.

The advertisement we created with Ogilvy quickly went viral.

It became the most shared ad of 2013 with over 223 million twitter impressions.

We need more of these creative approaches that target the biggest barriers.

2015 is the year where we must prove that we are serious about transformation.

As a world we are adopting a new set of sustainable development goals for ‘people, planet and prosperity’, with gender equality, health and education at their heart.

Media —in entertainment as well as in news – play a central role in creating and sustaining perceptions and attitudes.

They are highly influential in shaping and solidifying social norms. We wanted to investigate that.

Last year, UN Women partnered with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the University of Southern California on the first-ever global study on the portrayal of women in film.

This was the largest amount of research ever done on gender depictions in media, surveying films from the 11 top grossing markets worldwide. 

Let me share a couple of key findings from the study “Gender Bias Without Borders”.

In real life, women and girls are more than half of the world’s population.  Onscreen, the proportion of characters is two thirds men, one third women. In crowd scenes, there are even fewer women – in the films studied 83 per cent of the crowd were men.

It is clear that the content of mass-consumed media is an important cultural influence, and that it matters whether women are present as leaders and decision-makers.

Female directors or writers involved in the film increased the number of female characters on screen by 7 per cent.

Geena Davis, who reported in March that her present focus was on media influencing children, commented, “the more family entertainment children watch: boys' self-esteem goes up, girls' self-esteem goes down".

We have in effect been enculturating children to see women and girls as taking up much less than their half of the space.

It turns out that the ratio of male-female characters in film has been exactly the same since 1946.

In the absence of hard data, people’s assumptions go unchallenged.

What’s “normal” stays unchanged.

Geena Davis reports that the male Hollywood producers and directors were first astonished and then mortified to hear her findings. They have committed to change.

Gender-disaggregated data is powerful.

By quantifying the problem so that it is visible, we can more easily change it.

We are still struggling to change the structural foundations of inequality, and until those are removed, and new foundations laid, we will not be able to count on gains being irreversible.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me leave you with some parting thoughts.

In the UK, 22.8 per cent of FTSE 100 companies board positions were held by women in 2014, and in the US 17.7 per cent of Fortune 1000 companies.

Oxford University’s Equality report for 2013/14 reported that in the Russell group of universities, on average, 20 per cent of professors were female. 

For the UK as a whole nearly 22 per cent of professorial staff were female.

Globally 22 per cent of parliamentarians are women.

Remember the Geena Davis media survey where women were only 17 per cent of crowd scenes?

Why is it so difficult to move past the 20 per cent mark?

Have we conditioned ourselves to picture women as only occupying 20 per cent of the space?

Our goal is to change those numbers by 2030, through working inclusively with men as well as women.

We are focusing minds on action through presenting gender disaggregated data.

We are stimulating dialogue and questions.

We are working with partnerships that leverage the areas where change is most needed.

We – you – will accept nothing less than a 50-50 Planet.

Thank you.