“There is a really strong nexus of fragility, poverty and gender inequality” — Executive Director

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the CSW60 side event “Building Resilience in Fragility: Women’s Empowerment in Action” on 22 March 2016

Date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016

[As Delivered]

Ms. Hiroko Hashimoto, Representative of Japan to the CSW, and our Co-host of today’s event;
Ambassador Hiroshi Minami, Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the UN;
Ms. Safaa’ Al-Ali from FGE grantee organization in Lebanon, Amel Assocation;
Ms. Paivi Kannisto, Chief of UN Women’s Peace & Security Unit;
Ms. Elisa Fernandez, Chief of the Fund for Gender Equality;

Thank you to the Government of Japan for being here as our co-hosts today. And thanks also to Ambassador Hiroshi Minami; our partners and grantees; and of course the team from UN Women.

Welcome to the launch of this knowledge initiative on women’s economic empowerment in fragile contexts, which is led jointly by UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality (FGE) and the Government of Japan. Thank you so much to the Government of Japan for believing in this issue and for investing in it.

This is what Agenda 2030 actually is about. When we talk about leaving no one behind, this is exactly the constituency that we are talking about. Missing out on this constituency means we are missing the direction to 2030. The statistics show that there is severe poverty in Fragile States. According to the OECD, 43 per cent of those in severe poverty live in Fragile States and over 70 per cent are women, youth and children.

There is a really strong nexus of fragility, poverty and gender inequality. This is a complex challenge that needs real solutions. It also simplifies the targeting of who needs to be assisted most and assisted first. Because once you get into the nexus you can go directly to the ones who are otherwise being left behind.

Women suffer in conflict and as a result of poor governance. They are also, at the same time, an important part of the solution. If we strongly invested in this group—not as a micro intervention but as the macro strategy of development—many of the problems we are trying to solve in the 21st Century would resolve themselves. By ignoring direct investment in these fragile communities, and in women, in the end we increase the problems that we are trying to solve. Then we spend a lot of our resources trying to fix the problems that could resolve themselves if we invested in making the women resilient.

UN Women is working closely with civil society to ensure women’s meaningful participation in influential spaces of policymaking around fragility, peace and security, economic growth, social cohesion and development, and the implementation of high-impact initiatives. Again, I want to underline the importance of working with civil society, the importance of working with women’s organizations, because they have got the most coherent way of reaching out to this constituency. By missing an opportunity to work with civil society and women’s organizations, we delay the impact that we could make, and there is lots of evidence to prove the importance of linking the interventions that make communities resilient to working with civil society. 

The Fund for Gender Equality, in its seven years of existence, has supported 63 civil society organizations in 31 Fragile States. This has amounted to 50 programmes on women’s economic and political empowerment, worth USD 25 million. There are two million women, men and youth in Fragile States who have directly benefitted from the support we have given there, and many more if we count those who are outside the Fragile States as well.

By building resilience for women in fragile States we prepare them for the long haul, not just to make them resilient within a conflict situation, but resilient for life. Period. We want to create an economy for people to survive to lead a life beyond what the war provides. For this, it is important to fill knowledge gaps to inform our work. The launch of the knowledge initiative, "Building Resilience in Fragility: Women’s Empowerment in Action" has looked deeper into four FGE grantee programmes in Lebanon, Guinea, and Sudan.

Through this initiative we have documented the opportunities and barriers women face in fragile contexts, which are becoming more and more evidence based; we have identified women’s experiences of economic empowerment and resilience; we have captured lessons learned and offered recommendations to help strengthen women’s economic empowerment programming in fragile settings. One thousand, one hundred adult women in Guinea, Lebanon and Sudan have participated in a perceptions survey, complementing our field research.

This innovative initiative allows us to deepen the knowledge of good practices for strengthening women’s economic empowerment and resilience in fragile settings. And we hope that it will help others who are trying to do the same work to understand how and why it is important to incorporate gender dimensions in their interventions.

I look forward to hearing from you as we discuss the recommendations that have come out of the study. This is a wonderful launch because it puts those who were last, first. Thank you.