“Ending violence against women requires that key institutions work together”—Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in India

Opening Remarks by UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the conference, ‘We-UNiTE: Investing in Planet 50-50’ in Mumbai, India


[As delivered] 

I thank all the participants and guests who are here, including representatives of the UN family. I also want to thank the sponsors who have enabled us to meet today—the leadership of the IMC Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the broader family of the IMC, for embracing the cause of UN Women. We are happy to be co-hosting this event with an organization that improves trade, commerce and sustainable growth in India, and is concerned with investing in gender equality. 

Most of my previous visits to India, especially when I was with the Government of South Africa, were in connection with business: on investment, trade and collaboration between our industries in both countries, looking for opportunities for women in the private sector and in the economy in general. 

But today we are gathered here for a different reason: to share our ideas on the critical link between women’s economic empowerment and ending violence against women; and the importance of investing in the different activities on ending gender-based violence.  It is a very sobering topic and I want to thank you for being here in large numbers. 

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and McKinsey are among the institutions that have produced studies showing how violence against women has a significant impact on economic activity.  

Violence against women is unacceptable, because it is a violation of the rights of women and girls. It is a universal challenge that all countries are grappling with. 

According to McKinsey, the cost of violence against women could amount to around 2 per cent of Global Domestic Product, which equates to approximately US$1.5 trillion. In addition, there are the negative effects of sexual harassment at work and the chronic failure of law enforcement to act effectively against violent crimes at home and in public. There is violence committed against girls, which includes child marriages, and violence that is committed against young women on university campuses.  

This has led many countries to seek international and collaborative mechanisms to address the crime of violence against women and girls as a human rights violation, as well as a challenge affecting the capacity of economies to grow. The impact on economies includes loss of wages for women, lost productive time, women’s loss of self-esteem, medical challenges, the need for governments to invest in law enforcement both to protect and prosecute, and the list goes on. 

So, I would like to acknowledge the members of the business community with appreciation for the significant strides that you have been making in empowering women in the workplace, and as active participants in building the Indian community. Your work, especially when it is directed to addressing these issues of concern, helps to prevent and reduce violence against women, as well as to provide relief and support to the women and children who are affected. 

Ending violence against women requires that key institutions work together, provide services, and ensure that the different bodies in society are held accountable, especially those that are responsible for law enforcement. 

More than anything else, your being here is important to give voice to survivors of violence against women. 

One out of three women live with violence in their lives. This equals about 30 per cent of all women in the world. 

The three themes of this conference are therefore important: women’s economic empowerment, ending violence against women and the need for urgent and adequate investment. These are all interlinked and require some involvement of the private sector. 

These three areas also are themes that are of high importance to the Government of India. Progress in these areas is crucial to ensure that that women and girls thrive in a free world where they can be safe in public spaces, safe at work, at home, in school, and in universities. 

This conference happens during the 16 Days of Activism, a campaign that aims to galvanize action to end gender-based violence around the world. As we speak, almost in every corner of the world, people are having similar discussions.  They are discussing strategies as well as sharing ideas on the different initiatives that they have taken. 

The colour orange that you see dominating today is the colour of our campaign.  This colour was adopted to give a shine to this issue, and to project a brighter, warmer future for girls.  From 25 November to 10 December, different iconic buildings of the world, including here in India, will be lit up in orange. The idea is to start conversations among people who see the colour and ask questions. ‘Why is this building orange today?’ It is our duty to engage people in this and give them ideas about what they can do to address the issue of violence against women. 

In 2015, the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 of them. Many people felt this was a long list, especially because there were only eight Millennium Development Goals. But it was important that the United Nations and the Member States adopted a comprehensive programme in order to address the complex problems of the world. Addressing violence against women and gender equality are right at the centre of these Goals. 

The 17 Goals are universal and address issues that concern all countries. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, which were more about the developing countries, the Sustainable Development Goals are about the development of the whole world, the rich and the poor, East and West.  The Sustainable Development Goals are about people, and about leaving no one behind.  They therefore address the plight of girls, of women, of child labourers, of people that live in the inner city, of older people who may be neglected, and of disabled people. 

The Sustainable Development Goals are also about prosperity that is shared within nations and between nations, and women’s economic prosperity. They are about protecting the planet, and ensuring that we usher in a low-carbon economy.  They are about preventing conflict and protecting peace.  They are also about partnerships between different stakeholders, like the partners sitting here today who are trying to advance the cause of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

In each of the Goals there are significant interests for women, and if we adequately address the issues, each of these Goals has a direct impact on reducing violence against women. 

Let me give you some examples of the Goals. There is a Goal on ending poverty everywhere, in all its forms.  As you know, the poorer a woman is, the more she is in danger of being exposed to violence with no mechanism to run away from it. 

The Sustainable Development Goals also include healthy lifestyles. They include inclusive, quality education and the promotion of lifelong learning. They include a special, specific Goal on gender equality. They include ensuring access to water and sanitation. They include ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy, the building of resilient infrastructure and inclusive cities, and ensuring that there is targeted action to combat climate change. 

All of these Goals and the ones that I have not mentioned, are critical for the private sector to embrace. And as we implement these Goals, they will act as a mechanism to address gender based violence. 

It has now been more than a year since the Goals were adopted, and we are trying to position women better in their implementation, targeting new and critical stakeholders who can make a difference. 

Last year the UN Secretary-General commissioned a High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.  He wanted us to look at interventions that can be made in the area of women’s economic empowerment that will impact on the largest number of women who are on the wrong side of the economic divide. 

The Panel’s interim report has identified women in the informal sector as critical people who may be left behind. In India, there are some 122 million women who work outside the home, who work in the informal sector. This is a sector that is too big to fail. It is our responsibility to do something about supporting it. 

The High-Level Panel report highlights the importance of having policies that can provide social protection for women in the informal sector. It highlights that the labour laws of many countries do not offer protection and benefits to women in the informal sector; that many women in the informal sector do not have the privilege of maternity leave; and that these are the women who sit at the buffer zone of society, preventing poverty from getting deeper and deeper. 

The Panel’s report calls for the private sector and all of us to look at ways in which we could link the informal and the formal sector, in order to bring a systemic and progressive improvement of equality of life to women in the informal sector. 

There are also women such as domestic workers who are in the paid informal sector, which is a more structured informal sector, in the sense that they have employers. But again, where this work is unregulated, women’s wages plummet and they may be exposed to violence by their employers. 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has provided us with Convention 189 on Domestic Workers, which countries are expected to adopt and implement. That way we are able to have a predictable, safer and more robust care industry for women. Many countries have women migrants working in this sector. They send remittances home, through which they are able to protect their families and provide resources for healthcare, shelter and school. 

Another group that the Panel’s report identifies as critical are women who are at home, caught up in unpaid care work. These are the women who are likely never to enter the formal workforce because of the significant work that they have to do at home, and whose contribution is not accounted for. Many of them start to be caught up in this situation at a very young age. 

In the High-Level Panel report, alleviating the situation of these women is seen as critical, because it would unleash more women into the labour market who can grow the economy and continuously reduce poverty. That would also empower women to be in a situation to defend themselves from gender-based violence.  

The women who are in unpaid care work in particular need affordable access to childcare. This one single thing, affordable access to childcare, would be a game-changer for millions of women in the world. It is in this area, where the brains, the generosity and the initiative of the private sector would go a long way toward changing the status quo. 

We also have to focus on the industries and sectors where women are in the majority. In India, 75 per cent of women in rural areas are agricultural workers, but they own only 9 per cent of the land. Both through legislation and support interventions it should be possible to empower those women and to change their lives sustainably, to take them out of poverty, but also to protect them from violence that relates to the fact that even though they work hard, they still do not have significant economic power. India is not alone in this challenge.  This is also a real challenge in Africa. In a South-South context, it should be possible for countries to come together to share expertise, to share experiences and turn the situation around.  

Researchers in the United States have estimated that a USD 1.6 billion investment in programmes that sought to end violence against women resulted overall in savings of USD 14.8 billion. So we need you to also encourage investment in this area, because even small investments create big changes. This is one area where the rate of return is very high. Therefore in your business, in your small and big ways, please encourage participation, support and investment for this agenda. 

We have also seen the interventions of the Government of India to address the issue of violence against women. The Criminal Amendment Act of 2013 is an important Act that needs to be supported so that implementation is effective. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act is another important act that needs to be supported so that implementation is effective. 

We know that in many of our countries, business is led by men. So we are also looking for good men. While women are not dominant in the economy, we need the men that are leading the private sector to stand up for gender equality. 

We want men, like our host today, my brother and friend, Mr. Deepak Premnarayen, President of the IMC - Chamber of Commerce & Industry, who are not embarrassed to say, “I am a man, I am a feminist and I care about gender equality”. 

We have a movement at UN Women to motivate and provide a platform for men like that to stand up. It is called HeForShe. Our Number One HeForShe, who was the first one to sign up, was none other than our UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In this room I see many Ban Ki- moons, who I know are ready to sign up for HeForShe. 

As HeForShes, we expect you to make a commitment to take action on areas of gender equality, including violence against women, either in your company or in your community, and to motivate and mobilize others to take action. 

In India, we see a country that has the potential to raise the numbers of HeForShes in the world significantly. As we stand now, we have just reached over a million men in the world who have signed up for the campaign.  We are looking for a billion men. I know India can play a significant role. 

I want to end by telling you that in India, there are more than 210,000 men who have registered for HeForShe. I am throwing this number at you with the hope that by the time we end this day, you would have asked friends and family, to register. 

When you have taken a stand in your company, in your personal lives, you will see that our world will be in a much better position to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, to decrease the pain that women are suffering, and to ensure that the next generation will not experience the pain that women are experiencing now. When children witness violence at home they [may] also grow up to be abusers, and girls grow up to expect violence against them to be the norm. 

This generation has a unique opportunity to turn the tide. 

The Sustainable Development Goals are critical measures that, when put together, will be able to lead us to substantive equality.  India is one of the most significant countries that have signed up for this.  Together with the citizens of India, we have a possibility to be the first generation to obtain substantive gender equality for India and for the world. Just as we are the last generation with the possibility to turn the tide of climate change. 

It is a privilege to be in this generation, but if we do not step up to the challenge and make a difference, we risk betraying the course that is in front of us, the course that we are able to achieve and deliver on.

Thank you.