Speech: “We have opportunities as much as we have challenges”—Executive Director

Remarks by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the closing of the 9th African Union Gender Pre-Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Date: Thursday, January 26, 2017

[As delivered]

Chairperson of the African Union (AU), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Honourable Ministers,

Representatives of civil society and the private sector, our dynamic young leaders, our colleagues from the United Nations system, our partners in the countries that are supporting this event, ladies and gentlemen, let me start by congratulating all of you for the successful hosting of this 9th African Union Gender Pre-Summit.

Congratulations for the depth of deliberations, for the vast engagement, for the outstanding inputs that have been made by young people, and for the guidance and the stewardship that has been provided by the Ministers. Congratulations for the brilliance of civil society and the many ideas that have been put on the table, that are ‘outside the box’ and very necessary.

Thank you to the AU for making this possible, and for what we have become accustomed to as UN Women—where we come together to consolidate our ideas and our views, and to make sure that by the time we get to the global stage, such as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), we have achieved a coherent approach to the issues.

Sometimes, we agree to disagree, and we are getting better and better at this. At the last General Assembly, we had time to discuss how we would be even better at the next CSW. So thank you very much to those Ministers who stayed on that cold night and who brainstormed and strategized with us on how we could consolidate our partnership.

I also want to thank the AU’s Goodwill Ambassador who is focusing on ending so-called child, early and forced marriage, which she has asked that we not call marriage, but the sexual exploitation of children. Thank you for the work that you have done and for helping us with the young people that we are assisting to come here, the assistance that you have given us to ensure that we participate effectively, and for the continued support and technical expertise that you provide to UN Women.

I also want to highlight the fact that, from where we stand as UN Women, the work of an intergovernmental body can only succeed if we do collaborate with civil society, with private sector, and with academia, because the issues are too complicated to tackle all by ourselves. So thank you to all of those who collaborate with us.

All our discussions have told us that we are facing both challenges and opportunities when it comes to young people. In the next eight years—by 2025—65 per cent of all Africans will be below the age of 30; and currently one quarter of the world’s girls live in Africa. That is a lot of girls; resilient and determined to make a difference.

It is up to us to make sure that we make full use of this opportunity.

We know that as far as supporting young people is concerned, nutrition is important, health is important, public education that is comprehensive, affordable and engendered is important.

We know that lifelong education for women is important. That support for women’s access to reproductive rights and services, and respecting those rights, is important. As well as the many demands for them to become productive citizens, these women are also in the prime of child bearing at this time. So we need to support them in the area of reproductive health and at the same time make it possible for them participate effectively in the economy.

We know that at this age, women who are 30 and below are prime targets for human traffickers and those that abuse and exploit women sexually. Again that requires us to be vigilant.

We know that the stereotypes that discriminate against women strongly affect this age group. At the same time, there is an opportunity to turn back the clock as far as this age group is concerned because it is possible for both men and women to unlearn these stereotypes.

So we have opportunities as much as we have challenges.

I have been asked to talk about the commitments that we are going to make as the United Nations system, and UN Women in particular, as a result of this gathering. Let me highlight for you some of the commitments we are making, especially to respond to the fact that this meeting is about leadership and the civic participation of young people.

The UN has its biggest footprint in Africa. But we know that the work that we do is not enough for the challenges that Africa faces. We also know that Africa does a lot for itself. What we do is to partner, enhance and leverage the good work that is already being done by different stakeholders on the continent.

The resources that we have jointly are not expanding, however we could be smarter in the way we use them, we can work more collaboratively, and we can work in a more targeted manner. We have a new Secretary-General who has raised the bar in the UN as far as gender equality is concerned.

One of our first commitments is to make sure that Africa gets its fair share of the new commitments being made by the Secretary-General as far as gender equality is concerned.

Amongst those commitments is the drive to ensure that the UN becomes a much more diverse organization, tackling under-representation of some regions of the world and ensuring a much more diverse organization that will achieve gender parity within his first term, which is in the next four years.

In that regard, I would like to commit that as UN Women we will ensure that young people are adequately represented as the organization reshapes itself.

The Secretary-General has also made commitments to youth, to jobs and to education as being critical for his term of office. He has highlighted the importance of making sure that the work we are doing in Africa takes this into account, as well as addressing prevention.

On leadership, again an important subject for this conference, I would like to commit that we will strengthen the Youth CSW, which we established last year.

On your side, as Member States, my dear sisters and Ministers, I am asking you to help us ensure that the Member States make sure that this becomes an institution of the CSW that has much better standing than it has at this moment. I ask you to ensure that you send delegates to participate in the Youth CSW, some of whom, as you know, we will support.

I also want to commit us to gender-disaggregated data, and to ensure that data also identifies the different age groups and their different needs. We already have an initiative which involves some of the countries in Africa, which is looking at promoting gender-disaggregated data on the continent. We are unable at this point to make this service available to all the countries on the continent. But we have started with some of those countries whose national statistical bodies are able to hit the ground running. Where countries are currently not part of this initiative, they are invited to be self-starters and to benefit in many ways from this initiative.

I also commit us to expand the availability of an intervention that we call ‘the situation room’, which we make available to Member States around the times of election, and through which we support women candidates to prepare themselves to run for office. This works across party lines. In addition to that we will also go out of our way to make sure that we support young candidates, that we encourage them to stand up for elections, and that we ask you as different countries, governments, and civil society to support these young people. In the situation room we help them to make their messages coherent, to raise the resources that they may need in order to afford to run their campaigns, and to deal with a number of other challenges they face as they run for elections.

I also would like to highlight the fact that it is important to support girls to stand for office in schools and at universities, because girls are one group in society that does not have any vested interest in the current status quo. All they want is change that works, for everybody and for themselves. So you can trust them to do their best to bring about change that works for everybody.

I would also like us to commit us to expand the work that we do on gender-responsive budgeting. Around the world, we have about 75 countries that we work with and among the countries that are leading in Africa are Rwanda, Morocco and Uganda. There are many other countries that have started to work in the area, including South Africa.

We would like to commit ourselves to working with any country that wants to address the issue of gender-responsive budgeting because this is critical to liberate resources that already exist in our treasuries for the purpose of better investments in women.

I commit us also to ensure that the work that has been done by the AU on the issue of illicit outflows will continue. We would like to associate ourselves with taking this forward so we can return some of those resources to the continent and so that a portion of it would go to youth and women.

I also commit us to agriculture, something that I know is dear to Madame Chair, and to work collaboratively with the AU on their Empower Women in Agriculture (EWA) initiative along with our own initiative, which is called Climate-Smart Agriculture, and which also provides a platform called Buy from Women, which facilitates the marketing of products that are made by women in agriculture, and other products.

I commit us to work with all countries that want to work on the reform of their procurement policies. We have devised numerous measures to address this issue, but also we want to support those countries that have legislation that has not been implemented, or is being poorly implemented, and to share case studies of what works and what challenges these countries have faced. And in that regard, we would also facilitate South-South cooperation.

I want to commit us to position youth in Africa within the private sector in our work on the Women’s Empowerment Principles that we do with private sector, and to increase the number of African companies that have signed up for this initiative.

We also work with men and boys, and facilitate and encourage men and boys to take a stand and to take an active role in addressing gender inequality. We could do with higher uptake in Africa of men and boys who are active in this space. We commit ourselves to support you to help us bump up the numbers and to make sure that in Africa we also follow through on the commitments that some of the leaders made in their capacity as HeForShe Champions.

We work on ending violence against women, as you know. But in particular, for this audience I would like us to commit to address campus violence; the kind of sexual violence that girls are facing in our universities. We are working on a global initiative that will help universities to devise minimum standards that must exist on every campus in order to protect and to prosecute crimes that violate women and girls sexually on campuses. But we would like to collaborate with self-starters in African countries and universities that wish to be part of the pilot that will take this work forward.

We are committed to the recommendations that you are working on in education. We have established a Virtual Skills School which is aimed at providing learning capacity for girls and women no matter where they are, as long as they have a mobile device, in order to make sure that we reduce the barriers to learning faced by many girls and women in countries where our education systems are struggling to cope. The issue of education is dear to my heart. I also know that it is one of the issues that is a priority for Madame Chair and we commit to continue to work on this issue.

We also commit—as UN Women, but also as the whole UN System—to work as hard as we can to end the issue of the exploitation of children as child brides as well as to end Female Genital Mutilation. At CSW 61 we hope that we can adopt the recommendations that are in line with what has already been agreed to in the SDGs, in which these issues are addressed effectively.

On the issue of stereotypes, which we discussed here, I want to assure colleagues from the All Africa Council of Churches who made their impressive contribution that we will also be with you in addressing this issue. We tabled this with the private sector in Davos this year; we will discuss it in a side event at CSW; and we have put this issue to major companies for their marketing divisions to address and to begin to change the manner in which they project women in their advertisements, and in the marketing of their products.

We would like to work with you on this and get some of the out-of-the-box ideas from young women on how we could address this. Young people are key in enabling us to harness technology for effective use, so we also commit ourselves to work with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the different partners in the private sector that have signed up to work with us on improving access to the internet as well as on digital and financial inclusion.

So, as I end, I would like you to hold us accountable to all of the commitments that have been made. We do not have fully-fledged offices in all countries, but we are able to work in all countries in the world and in all countries on the continent because of the partnerships that we have with other sister agencies of the United Nations. If we do not have a UN office in your country, it does not mean that you cannot reach us. I know your Permanent Representative (PR) in New York will reach me if they need me.

In conclusion I want to thank Madame Diop for the excellent coordination we have had with her on women, peace and security. This collaboration has made it possible for Africa to be the leading continent, with the highest number of countries that have adopted national plans that address peace and security.

We also are driving together training of peacekeepers ahead of deployment, as well as training of women officers, in order to make it easier for countries to appoint women as officers who can participate as peacekeepers at a senior level.

We would like to continue this work and to continue to collaborate with you, Madame Diop and the AU system in general.

Thank you very much.