“There isn’t one single stakeholder that can deal with this alone”—Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Remarks by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women at the Australian High Commission Forum on engagement with civil society to end gender-based violence, Papua New Guinea


[As delivered]

I would like to begin by expressing appreciation for UN Women’s dynamic partnership with Australia, which extends across different levels and different countries. Australia recently joined us to launch an initiative on data in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. This is an important area for UN Women; data is very much required for the work that we are all doing on addressing the issue of violence against women, as well as more broadly for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For many of the SDGs, the kind of baseline data that we need in order to track progress, does not exist.

We are here in Papua New Guinea during the 16 Days of Activism Campaign to end violence against women because the problem here is significant. We know civil society is making an effort. We know governments are making an effort. But the size of the problem is such that an even stronger push is needed. We count ourselves as part of the contingent that is needed to make that push: we are stronger together. Occasions like this are an opportunity to get to know who’s doing what, and to see where we can consolidate our efforts.

When we reviewed the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action after 20 years of implementation in 176 countries, we observed that many countries had passed a lot of good laws, and quite a number had taken steps towards ending violence against women, enshrining gender equality in constitutions or in national legislation.  Many countries had made progress on programmes that were either targeted at women’s health, or girls’ education, targeting specific groups who were at risk of dropping out from the school system. It became clear how important a targeted approach is, as an important mechanism to advance gender equality. 

It was clear that many laws, especially those dealing with the rights of women, were trying to address cultural practices, norms and stereotypes that were oppressive to women. We passed the laws, but we did not address the harmful norms themselves directly. This meant the good laws and the harmful behaviours have stayed side by side. In many cases the cultural norms are stronger than the laws. If we pass laws without a robust strategy to crack systematically the norms, to educate communities, families, men and boys, and the different custodians of culture and norms, we risk not getting the full benefit of the legislation.

We also looked at our work as UN Women and that of our partners, and we felt that not enough of us were in this norms space, nor do we have sufficient expertise in it. We do not work a lot in education—which is an important institution that entrenches norms. I would like to suggest that this is an area that needs attention in your work, specifically on violence against women.

The Beijing Platform for Action picked up the issue of violence against women as a critical concern, however the Millennium Development Goals did not address this. We therefore lost momentum during MDG implementation, which in some ways superseded the Beijing Platform for Action. Now, with the Sustainable Development Goals, we have gone back to the issue of violence against women. It was a very hard and bitter lesson. There have been some setbacks, but in the meantime a lot of work has been done and we are taking this body of knowledge forward.

What still remains a concern is the size of the problem and the fact that we are not seeing a decrease in the number of women that are living with violence.  In part, this may be because our own tracking mechanisms are not as strong as they can be. That is why we must have adequate data to track progress with Goal 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. We must be able to see if we are making progress with this figure of one out of three women who lives with violence.  Which types of violence are persistent?  Where are the opportunities, geographically? Which parts of the world are getting it right, and why?

In Goal 5, and throughout the SDGs, also we make a strong case about the importance of addressing the issue of gender equality in a comprehensive way. We have many goals—17 of them—that some people may feel are too many. However, it is not too much for women, because the issue is so complex. Each Goal, as you open it up, presents you with some issues that impact women and girls, with identified indicators on this, which has helped us to make a very good case for gender mainstreaming throughout the goals.

We recognized that we needed to have one goal that looks deeper into the structures that create barriers to gender equality. Goal 5 does that. It contains an element dealing with violence against women.  It looks at the laws that discriminate against women. There are still more than 100 countries in the world that have laws that discriminate against women.  It looks at reproductive rights and sexual rights. It looks at cultural practices that are harmful to women and girls. It looks at representation and participation of women in the economy. It looks at unpaid care work.

I think in each of these areas we can find an issue that is linked with violence. Our implementation therefore deals with all of these issues at the same time. Our work is quite intense. There are no shortcuts. We have to be comprehensive. And that is why we have to mobilize leaders, men and boys, the private sector, the church and everybody. Because there isn’t one single stakeholder that can deal with this alone.