“We must make sure that the UN is fit for purpose to make a 50-50 Planet happen”—UN Women Executive Director

Speech by UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the official United Nations commemoration of International Women’s Day, 8 March 2016, New York.


[As delivered]

Five days ago, Berta Cáceres, feminist activist, environmentalist, defender of indigenous and all human rights, was shot dead in Honduras. I ask that we stand in a moment of silence to honour her. Through our silence, we mark with respect, the passing of this leader. We celebrate the courage of all those all over the world who lead and sustain the fight to leave no one behind. This was the work that Berta did. We also celebrate women in civil society who actually gave us this day.

We celebrate Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in Pakistan who is the director of a documentary that highlights the challenges and the horror of honour killing, in a documentary called A Girl in the River: The price of forgiveness, which won an Oscar.

We celebrate women who are in danger of being left behind: indigenous women and peoples, women and children in remote areas, those living with disabilities, older women, LGBTQI communities, women of colour who live in poverty, those living in situations of multiple deprivation or discrimination, those who have been displaced from their homes, and those who are trafficked and sexually abused.

We must not leave anyone behind. We must not leave behind those who are willing and able to serve their countries, to serve their universities, to serve their churches, to serve their companies, and to serve the United Nations—by not appointing them to high offices. In choosing our leaders in all the bodies that are important for decision-making, we must make sure that we are inclusive.

With Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, we have committed to bring everyone to the 2030 finish line alongside everyone else. In that way, today is about the celebration of the resilience of the women that we need to bring forward. This is about a change in the way we lead, the way we develop and perceive development, the way we view growth and even the way we handle power. It is about the strength of an inclusive, universal agenda—an agenda that has clearly articulated that women and girls can and must play a key role for this vision to be achieved. And that gender equality is a necessary condition for us to be at our best as nations and as a world.

So today, 2016 International Women’s Day, when we are now talking about implementation of this great Agenda—Agenda 2030—we recognize also our part as United Nations, our responsibility for “Stepping it up” for gender equality and Planet 50-50.

We must make sure that the UN is fit for purpose to make a 50-50 Planet happen, and to be itself a 50-50 Planet. That means that we enable inclusiveness in the field where we do our work, while at the same time ensuring that the UN itself is an inclusive institution. And that the UN is set to achieve gender parity and to take even to a higher level the great work that the UN does, and does so well.

In the next two weeks, during the Commission of the Status of Women, we will work together with the Chair of this year’s Commission to establish the set of decisive actions needed to launch effective implementation of this Agenda and the milestones to track our progress. Those universal milestones must lead us to lasting and scalable change and to systematic and transformative change that is supported by increased awareness. But increased awareness by itself is not enough. Action is required.

Gender equality is a complex issue. It needs a comprehensive response. It needs resources that are considerable in order for us to be effective with our actions. The fact that all the 17 goals that have been adopted are underpinned by gender equality demonstrates the complexity of the issue we are dealing with. And of course the depth in Goal 5 also demonstrates the complexity.

The use of the indicators will support and monitor the 17 goals and ensure that we can adequately trace the changes that we are making. Goal 5 represents an important and deeper critical list that needs us to work together to kick-start the journey to 2030. This we have to do in a coordinated fashion, because if we are all fragmented, we will never make the kind of impact that we need to make.

On this Women’s Day, as we celebrate the sacrifices and the progress made by women all over the world and the contribution being made by a growing number of men, we call on all of us to join together in our “Step It Up” campaign and ensure that we take responsibility for achieving gender equality by 2030 and substantive and lasting change by 2020.

Gender parity and leadership of women is key because, together with women, we have to address unpaid care. Together we have to address equal pay. Together we have to address reproductive rights and sexual rights. Together we have to address and end the harmful practices that affect women and girls in different parts of the world.

Our speakers today include governments, academics, representatives from the private sector, young people, men and women, and all of these constituencies that have a critical contribution to make. United as a coordinated global team we can move forward together. Our presence in this room underlines that the challenges we face, the challenges that are faced not only by women, but by all of us, can only be overcome if we all work together.

As UN Women, we also want to make sure that we are fit for purpose. So today we are also being introspective about ourselves, as well as about the UN and its fitness for purpose especially in relation to gender parity.

Our ability to achieve early wins here will demonstrate that our agenda is do-able, and give us the credibility to lead by example and harness the strength that we need.

And so today, and every day, let us take the universality and the energy that is represented in this room, the inspiration from Berta, and from all the women who are all over the world working for gender equality and ensure that together we are forging ahead to 2030—to Planet 50-50.

Thank you.