“Realizing gender equality has a deadline, and it is 2030” — Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the Annual Meeting 2016 of the Academic Council on the UN System on 17 June, in New York.


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Thank you to the organizers, my fellow panellists and those of you joining this event today.

I am glad to participate in this event and discuss the successes of, and hurdles against achieving gender equality, and also reinforce the relevance of the ‘gender compact’ as set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which ascertains that the achievement of gender equality is central to achieving the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the Agenda over the next 15 years and beyond.

I want to emphasize that I am referring to gender equality and not gender equity as per the invitation that we received because our plead is not for fairness and impartiality, but for equal rights and equal opportunities for all women and men everywhere and in all spheres of life. This is not a matter of semantics, but a political statement on the urgency of ensuring equal rights and equal opportunities for all as a precondition for us as a society to fully achieve progress in development, peace, security and human rights.

Let me start by introducing UN Women to you

In July 2016, UN Women will celebrate six years of existence. 

UN Women is the only 21st century UN entity with the mandate to promote and realize the most transformative and, with the biggest potential, project for humanity.

As global champion for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, UN Women has become an impactful entity that advances global norms and standards on gender equality and women’s rights.

Through provisioning technical and financial support as well as building collaborations between civil society and local and national governments, UN Women provides support to requesting Member States in their implementation of those global standards within their national contexts. 

UN Women also leads and coordinates the UN system’s work on gender equality and monitors the system-wide progress on its implementation and achievement.

Big tasks for a new, small and underfunded entity!

And beyond that, UN Women also advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens - women and girls, men and boys everywhere, including through its highly successful and innovative campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women/orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and HeForShe which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide.

After 65 years of the UN’s existence and the organization’s tremendous and impactful work in our world, the need for a coherent, efficient and integrated approach to promoting and achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women within the UN system was realized with the creation of UN Women. And I can proudly said that we have risen to the challenge!

Last year marked a very significant milestone in UN Women’s pathway towards advancing its mandate. Why was it so?

The year 2015 was glorious for its path-breaking intergovernmental normative achievements and the consolidation of the highest level of political commitment from governments and the UN System.

It will also be remembered for the huge success of our movement-building and advocacy efforts with all stakeholders that positioned UN Women so prominently and generated ownership of the gender equality agenda beyond our own constituency to the diverse civil society, corporate, academia and media spaces and public minds.

The normative achievements on gender equality in 2015 endorsed by Member States are strong rungs on the ladder to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Our 20 year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPfA) resulted in a recommitment by Member States to the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the platform – the women’s bill of rights as it has been called. The BDPfA and its follow-up and review processes serve as one of the keystones for the 2030 Agenda.

The enshrinement of gender equality and the empowerment of women in the discussions and outcome document (Addis Ababa Action Agenda) of the Third International Financing for Development Conference was a crucial step in moving the gender equality agenda from the side stream of international financing development discussions into its plenary and laid a strong foundation for setting gender equality as a central tenet of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

The comprehensive successor to the Millennium Development Goals is a universal, trifold and indivisible framework of all the dimensions of sustainable development – whether economic, environmental or social – and incorporates strong references to human rights, ending discrimination, violence, and inequality as the basis of transformation for all women and girls, individuals and countries, both developed and developing. It provides UN Women a very special role and responsibility within the UN System and in the larger international community to contribute to this life changing and lifestyle altering sustainable development paradigm even as we are instrumental in delivering on the gender equality and women’s empowerment project inherent and crucial to its success.

The 2030 Agenda further heightens the profile of the gender equality agenda as a key component of sustainable development. Without the contributions of half of the world’s population, achieving the ambitious, universal and transformative objectives of the 2030 Agenda would be a severe handicap to local, national and global development initiatives. 

And let me emphasize that we are not speaking about the next 70 years. Realizing gender equality has a deadline, and it is 2030. That is actually what has inspired our global campaign Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.

Indeed, the 2030 Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, negotiated by all Member States and applicable to all Member States, as well as a sobering reminder that, as yet, no country has achieved gender equality. It is grounded in human rights treaties like CEDAW and underpinned by the Beijing Platform for Action. For the first time, the normative gender framework is integrated into overarching development goals and targets that governments have pledged to fully achieve individually and together by the 2030 deadline.

The 70th session of the UN General Assembly evoked commitments for gender equality and the empowerment of women with 100 leaders emphasizing the importance of gender equality in development. This was followed by the 15-year Global Review and Global Study on UNSC resolution 1325 and its implementation. UN Women was the Secretariat for the comprehensive Global Study, which encapsulates the experience, good practices and gaps while providing recommendations for urgent action.

To this phalanx of normative successes we added the outcome of the Climate Change Agreement which contains a breakthrough reference to “respecting, promoting and considering human rights, gender equality and women's empowerment obligations in all climate action” in an overarching way in the Preamble and to “gender-responsiveness” in the sections on adaptation and capacity-building respectively.

In the course of the year, UN Women and its partners – Member States, UN organizations, academia, the private sector and civil society – have incorporated gender into several areas where it was lacking or minimal and which impact development. These areas include migration, humanitarian action, urban development, information technology, disabilities, health (HIV/AIDS, Ebola prevention) and indigenous women. It cannot be emphasized enough that anything having a human impact, impacts women and girls though not necessarily in the same way as men and boys. But stronger than that is the recognition that there is no area of life in which women’s agency has not made a huge contribution. Therefore, gender-sensitivity and gender-responsiveness are crucial to ensuring the safety, well-being, and full enjoyment by women and girls of their rights, including their rights to participate, contribute and benefit on an equal basis.

With the accretion of these normative gains to benefit women and girls and all humanity, why do we require further action?

Simply put, and paraphrasing Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Catalyst Awards gala, because ‘equality is not a threat. It is an opportunity.’

And we, the international community have the power to unleash the potential of such opportunity, by ensuring that half of humanity contributes to the consolidation of prosperity, sustainability and peace for all.

There are countless studies that tell us that women have greater abilities to fully contribute to the economy, the workplace, their homes and communities if they have access to equal opportunities for education, health care and social protection services and to decent work, and the recognition and valuing of unpaid care and domestic work, if they have a life free of violence and discrimination.

These abilities can be even greater if women have access and control over economic resources as well as full and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.

Yet, inequalities persist and the gaps between legal frameworks and their implementation are large and hinge on factors such as interpretation in the context of traditional practices, religion, culture and forms of patriarchy which stand in opposition to the gender-equal world that we want.

Gender equality is everyone’s business

Gender equality is a human right enshrined in international treaties. This places obligations on states to promote and protect women’s rights in law, with adequate enforcement mechanisms to ensure adherence in practice. 

The private sector has a stake because sustainable development also means sustainable and sound growth. The private sector has a responsibility because the practices of business have a direct impact on our planet and on people’s ability to lead decent, dignified, and rewarding lives, in which they achieve their full human potential.

Civil society at large and not only women’s rights organizations are critical for advocacy, monitoring progress on these activities, and holding governments and corporations accountable for fulfilling their obligations. 

Youth, men and boys, unions, faith-based organizations are all part of this struggle for humanity. They are all accountable for achieving and sustaining gender equality gains.

We all, as individuals have our own stake too. We do not want the achievements of 2015 to remain ink on paper, a fleeting reflection of one moment in time. These normative gains are our blueprint for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

So how do we boost better and truly transformative results for gender equality and women’s empowerment?

  • Localization of the SDGs is imperative to create real change in the lives of women and men, boys and girls. All endogenous development strategies, policies and programmes, constitutions and laws of all countries need to reflect the gender equality commitments.
  • We need to advocate for Member States to remain faithful to the prioritization of gender equality in the 2030 Agenda and to follow an ‘all of government’ and "all of society" approach, including a strong role for gender equality mechanisms to help drive evidence-based implementation and gender-responsive monitoring of the SDGs.
  • As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.
  • The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow-up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.
  • In 2006, the United Nations Millennium Project Task Force attempted to estimate the financing gap for MDG 3 on promoting gender equality and empowering women. Using data from five low income countries, the study found that the financing required to meet the targets of this goal ranged from 8.6 billion USD in 2006 to 23.8 billion USD in 2015 in these countries. Transformative financing requires significantly increased and enhanced investment in scale, scope and quality, from all sources and at all levels, mainstreamed and targeted to bridge the gender gap as committed in the 2030 Agenda. 
  • Yet we must be mindful that the transformative financing must go beyond the macro level. National women’s machineries are also significantly under resourced. Government Spending Watch (2013) found that in 13 countries with available data, government spending on national women’s machineries was less than 0.4 per cent of GDP and spending levels had either remained flat or fallen as a per cent of GDP since the financial crisis.
  • UN Women’s work on costing national gender equality action plans and strategies in a number of countries (Honduras, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan) found financing gaps ranging from 70-90 per cent.
    • In Honduras the 2010-2022 National Action Plan for Gender Equity and Equality estimated at USD 13.3 million per annum, only received an allocation of USD 2.8 million per annum by the State budget resulting in a 78 per cent financing gap.
    • In Jordan, the 2013-2017 National Strategy for Women, estimated at USD 5.8 million per annum, received only USD 254,237 per annum resulting in a 79 per cent gap.
    • In Kyrgyzstan, the 2012-2014 National Action Plan for Gender Equality, estimated at USD 10 million, only received an allocation to cover 10 per cent of activities, resulting in a 90 per cent financing gap.
  • Similarly with ODA, only 5 per cent of the aid screened against the DAC gender marker in 2012-13 targeted gender equality as a principal objective with low allocations in critical areas including women, peace and security and economic empowerment. To illustrate, in 2012-13, only 2 per cent of aid to peace and security in fragile states targeted gender equality as a principal objective.
  • Financing for women’s organizations too remains a challenge. A 2011 survey conducted by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) found that the combined income of 740 women’s organizations in 2010 was only $106 million (a fraction of the budget of a big NGO) with mean annual incomes of only USD 20,000.
  • Ensuring financial inclusion for women on the ground is key to making inclusive development a reality. This means ensuring full and equal access of women to financial services, as well as access and control over productive and financial resources.
  • And it also means that adequate and predictable financing reaches gender equality institutions and civil society organizations.
  • UN Women has shown itself to be fit for purpose, but it must also be financed for purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.
  • The knowledge and experience, watchdog role and capacity for programmatic and grass roots delivery and "socialization of 2030 Agenda” of civil society organizations should be harnessed.

In conclusion, the task before us is not easy, but it is also not insurmountable. We have the building blocks in the existing normative frameworks. We cannot afford regression and complacency, but we must continue to build momentum and pursue the completion of the task at hand – the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment at an accelerated pace – the once in a lifetime generation changing evolution. 

Let us emphasize that no progress can be made in any area without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change. By prioritizing gender equality and upholding women’s rights we will make the economy, polity and society work for women, and also create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for gender equality. Let us seize the opportunity of the 2030 Agenda. We count on your leadership to Step it UP and make this mission possible!

Thank you.