UN Women recognizes the champions and stalwarts of the gender equality and women’s empowerment movement

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the Global Partnership Forum: Celebrate Women Leaders in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development


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Excellencies, distinguished guests, colleagues,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to this reception celebrating global partnership, on behalf of UN Women and our dedicated partner and collaborator, the Global Partnerships Forum.

We are so pleased to acknowledge the distinguished guests in attendance and the strength of leadership across sectors from government, business, civil society, philanthropy and more.

Tonight, we celebrate the “Role of Women Leaders in Addressing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”—and, indeed, we have some amazing women leaders to celebrate.

As the international community convenes this week for the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, at the forefront of the agenda is addressing progress one year since the historic adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 Agenda is ambitious in its universality and in its comprehensiveness. However, at its core, the 2030 Agenda declares that justice for women and girls and their human rights matter because they are half of humanity, and their needs and potential cannot and must not be ignored. 

With the historic agenda that was agreed upon by UN Member States one year ago, we now have the stand-alone SDG 5—Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls—and gender-sensitive targets in 11 other SDGs that constitute a gender equality compact that offers a real opportunity to drive lasting change for women’s rights and equality.

In line with the Ambition of this global framework, UN Women has called to all governments to Step It Up for Gender Equality, and now—as the hard work of implementation has started—to ensure a gender-responsive implementation of the SDGs and that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development actually delivers for all women and girls. 

This is a huge responsibility in which we all have a stake, but there are many leaders and particularly female leaders around the world who have stepped it up to ensure effective and accelerated action in this frontloading phase.

This evening, we celebrate a number of women leaders who are truly amazing partners in the shared mission and responsibility to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In support of UN Women, the Global Partnerships Forum has created the Agent of Change Award for Champions of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment with renowned artist Spar Street. 

It is a beautiful design, and more beautiful is what it means:

“The Agent of Change is that part of us that deeply wants to make a difference in this world, to uplift our own lives in a way that inspires others to recognize their greatness and do wonderful things. It is the allowing of heaven to move through us unimpeded, so that we can be of service and leave the world in a better place” – from the artist, Spar Street.

It is with great pleasure that I present the awards to our first Agents of Change. Let us use this opportunity to honour these women leaders, and inspire others to be change agents for gender equality and women’s empowerment!

This evening it is my pleasure to introduce three phenomenal women.

First, a leader who has been pivotal to the success of Bangladesh in achieving the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a success which is acclaimed both globally and regionally.  

We are fortunate that the Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina is here with us.

In her previous addresses to the UN General Assembly and in other international forums, the Prime Minister reiterated her vision for Bangladesh. She is leading Bangladesh on the path to achieve the status of a middle income country by 2021 “where the rule of law and social justice will prevail over poverty, hunger, inequality, impunity and exclusion”. She has articulated her vision for a “Digital Bangladesh” by 2021. She is also a champion for gender equality and empowerment of women in Bangladesh.

Under her dynamic leadership, the profile of women in non-traditional roles, in public service and as decision makers, has increased significantly.

One of the major steps taken by Prime Minister Hasina’s government was to formulate and implement an ambitious and ground-breaking National Women’s Development Policy, which guarantees equal opportunity and entitlement for women.

Education for girls and young women is another strong focus of the Prime Minister’s government policy. She knows that providing girls and young women with education and skills development is one of the most powerful tools we have to transform society.

Universal education was instituted in 2010 – before that education was free for girls only through the second grade (but free for boys through primary and secondary school).

Prime Minister Hasina has also delivered on programmes that provide stipends and free meals for students from low-income families, to ensure that quality education was accessible to all girls and young women.

Prime Minister Hasina believes in the economic empowerment of women. The percentage of women in the workforce has risen under her leadership, and there are more opportunities for women in government jobs, the armed forces, business and technical professions, and the media.

Further, Prime Minister Hasina is also well known as an environmental champion and leader in recognition of Bangladesh’s far-reaching efforts to address climate change.  We know that the impacts of climate change are felt the most by those who are poor and marginalized—often it is women and girls who are most at risk.

UN Women urges Prime Minister Hasina to continue the essential step of increasing women’s participation in the labour force (currently under 35 per cent); girls’ education; restraining and eliminating child marriage and improving the state of sexual and reproductive health.  

For all these achievements, advancements and the ongoing work of her government for women and girls, which ultimately benefit and transform not only their lives, but the lives of their families and communities, and which demonstrate her strong commitment to gender equality and women’s contributions to development at local and national levels, UN Women is pleased to present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with this award as a true ‘Agent of Change’.

Our second awardee this evening, Her Excellency Madam Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca, President of the Republic of Malta, is the youngest President of the Republic of Malta and the second woman to hold the position of Head of State after 32 years. Since taking office, President Coleiro Preca has proven to be a true champion for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Just a year after taking office in 2014, Her Excellency hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta and at that meeting, the Commonwealth launched the Women’s Forum.   With the launch of the forum, the Commonwealth marked its recognition of the role that women have in society to contribute to the socioeconomic development of their communities, countries and regions as well as how their empowerment fosters the just and equal society we are working to develop in our world.

President Coleiro Preca has recently stated, “No lasting solution to the major challenges of our day, be it climate change, mass movement, or political and economic instability, can be solved without the full empowerment and participation of the world’s women”. 

In order to achieve these goals, President Coleiro Preca has shown a commitment to working with youth on gender equality, and engaging men and boys as partners in solidarity through the HeForShe campaign.  Through the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, Madam Colerio Preca has led a strong focus on the protection, and empowerment, of gender minorities. 

From an early age, President Coleiro Preca has been an advocate, activist and agent of change in the national politics of Malta.  She has translated the early activism of her teenage years into a career of service to her country.  As the Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity, she proposed in Parliament a number of legislations, including the Child Protection Act and was responsible for the establishment of Malta's first sexual assault crisis centre known as SART.

For being a champion and stalwart of the gender equality and women’s empowerment movement, UN Women wishes to recognize President Coleiro Preca’s work as she inspires women to be all that they can be, and her steadfast commitment to the women of Malta, the Commonwealth and the world.

Our third awardee this evening is well known in the international community for her commitment to and leadership in gender equality and women’s empowerment throughout her career.  We are very grateful for Madam Ban Soon-taek’s support in tonight’s event—and we would be remiss to not celebrate Her Excellency’s tireless service to achieving the cause of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls everywhere.

Madam Ban Soon-taek has been actively involved in advancing the causes of the women and girls, particularly in health and education. 

She was instrumental in launching the public-private partnership between Avon Products and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) for the cause of women’s empowerment, and Madam Ban was actively involved with the establishment of the UN ‘Women for Peace’ initiative in 2008, which raises funds for a variety of gender equality initiatives:

  • The United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women;
  • Scholarships for young women to complete graduate studies; and
  • To advance academic and charitable organizations that provide opportunities for women to partake in the global peace building process.

She has also supported the launch and furthering of the Secretary-General campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

It is my sincere pleasure to present this award to Her Excellency Madam Ban for her dedicated work and commitment to transform the lives of millions of women and girls globally.