Speech: “You are the leaders of today”

Opening remarks by Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women at the CSW61 Youth Forum, “Youth Create Gender Equality – Economic Empowerment in the changing world of work.”


Madame Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations—thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule and coming to inspire us—UN Women and youth at the opening of this first of its kind CSW Youth Forum on the occasion of the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.  Indeed, your empowering messages and the assurance that you and the Secretary-General have got the youth's back and that you will champion the youth creating Gender equality movement is very encouraging for us all.

Madame Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women—this is the realization of your epiphanies, your vision and drive that has brought us to this milestone.  As the dialogue you just had with youth shows, you not only ignite commitment of youth to gender equality but draw energy for the cause from them.  

Ms. Malaya Harper, Secretary General of the World YWCA –  thank you for your amazing partnership and mobilization from last year. 

Dear youth advocates – thank you, young women and men for coming from over 85 countries, representing all intersectionalities of circumstance, in record numbers.

This forum has been oversubscribed and only the walls of this room have been a constraint – physically – but in fact, virtually we are reaching out to and engaging millions of youth around the world via live webcast and social media.

This is your forum – and you have led it, made it open and inclusive and democratic, and you have made a thousand flowers of ideas, aspirations, motivations and actions bloom. 

Besides generations Y and  Z – the millennial, we need to acknowledge the engagement of so many generations—people of a certain age like me—who give the intergenerational combustion that it needs to blast off into space. 

Your participation in this forum speaks of your bold commitment to achieving gender equality and actively participate in key processes that shape our changing world.  CSW is the unique, largest and most potent standard setting and stakeholder convening gender equality forum in the world. 

The theme for this year’s Youth Forum is Youth Create Gender Equality – young women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.”

The largest youth cohort in history is entering the labour market in unprecedented numbers and faces the biggest jobs crisis!

Youth unemployment has reached epic proportions and within that, young women's access to decent work, to full and productive employment and to the realization of their human rights and gender equality in the world of work is at issue. 

The world of work is indeed changing fast, through innovation, increasing mobility and informality. This change must be matched with accelerated progress for the ensuring equal opportunities for all young women and girls.

Never before has the world experienced such dynamic changes in technologies, economies and societies.

These advances are a critical aspect of the ever-changing world of work and you, young people are in a unique position to use innovation and technology to disrupt, to recalibrate, to upend, to challenge inequalities, and be the force that transforms processes and create gender equal societies.

We have also seen that gaps in education have begun to close.  However, education is not the only great equalizer. Access to quality education alone is not enough to knock down gender-based discrimination and violence in the world of work.

Despite progress in many social indicators, the labour market continues to keep women out of some jobs and segregates them into others—often the lowest paying ones, in the vulnerable and informal employment, the ones that lack social protection and labour rights… often confined to unpaid care work and domestic work and in what we call the ‘sticky floor’ that keeps women at the bottom of the job scale.

The picture of inequality is dramatic.

  • From cooking and cleaning, to fetching water and firewood or taking care of children and the elderly, women—often young women and adolescent girls—bear a disproportionate burden of unpaid work across the world, which is estimated to be valued between 10 and 39 per cent of GDP.
  • Women are systematically paid less than men for work of equal value across all regions, countries and sectors. The global gender pay gap is 23 percent and is a major cause of an overall lifetime income inequality between men and women.
  • Women are overrepresented in the informal sector around the globe—particularly migrant women and young women—and in developing countries the informal sector is the primary source of employment for women.
  • And even for women accessing the highest levels education, the largest underrepresentation and the larger gender pay gaps are usually found at the top of the wage distribution—the ‘glass ceiling’ for highly skilled women workers.

Despite huge challenges ahead of us, realizing gender equality has a deadline, and it is 2030.

2015 was a landmark year for the advancement of the gender equality agenda.

It was a year of groundbreaking commitments with the adoption of a gender equality compact in the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which include a transformative, comprehensive and universal stand-alone goal—SDG 5—give me a High Five—on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

Also, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the outcome of the Global Study and Review of the United Nations’ Security Council resolution 1325, have recognized that women’s progress will play an indispensable role in the achievement of sustainable peaceful and prosperous development.

Our campaign Planet 50-50 by 2030 is a reminder of the urgency of accelerated action, full and effective implementation and significantly increased resources if the 2030 Agenda is to be achieved.

Investing in women, young women and girls has a multiplier effect on poverty eradication, productivity as well as sustainable economic growth.

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 all sectors of the political, economic and public life.

Equal participation for young women in the economy means a potential boost of 28 trillion USD to global annual GDP by 2025. This potential must be fully realized.

Information and communication technology play a key role to enhance education, learning opportunities and skill development. They also open doors for youth engagement, for political participation and for women and girls to advocate for their interests, rights and for social transformation.

And in this transformation, you young women and young men have a job!!

You can demand that discriminatory laws and policies be addressed, including discrimination and violence against young women and girls.

Currently, only 67 countries have laws against gender discrimination in hiring practices, while at least 155 have one or more gender-based legal restrictions on women’s employment and entrepreneurship.

This systematic barrier must be broken to strengthen the foundation for the economic empowerment of all women and girls.

Additionally, we know that people, especially young women, are not just interested in contributing to their own families, but also their communities. However, you can only be successful in your pursuits when countries invest in your development.

Evidence suggest that with equal access to education, technical skills, and professional opportunities, women will unlock the potential to transform the ‘youth bulge’ into an ‘opportunity bulge’ for sustainable development and gender equality.

Today, we sit 18 months after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.  As we celebrate our achievements, let us also remain cognizant of the road that still lies ahead. I cannot emphasize enough, the critical role that you, young women and young men, play as key drivers of implementing, monitoring and evaluating the Sustainable Development Goals.

Governments, decision makers, the United Nations, all of us are accountable for addressing the structural barriers which affect the interests, talents, and intellectual capital of girls and young women.

As the world of work continues to change, young women and men are called to take a stand and shape how these trends translate over the next 13 years—by 2030.

The future envisioned for humanity and our shared planet— Planet 5050 by 2030—across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, rests on fully freeing the power and economic and political potential of young women and girls.

You are not the leaders of tomorrow …. you are the leaders of today!

It is time to act on the high ambitions of the 2030 Agenda and guarantee that every young woman and girl can thrive.

Let me conclude by reminding every one of you that your voice matters. Use it! This is your world, this is your space, demand it, claim it, enjoy it, live it and transform it!

Together we can shake the universe so that not one woman, not one girl anywhere should ever be restricted, held back, and denied her rights …. So that no woman…. no young woman like you, should ever be told again that “she cannot, she will not, she dare not, and that she should not!” 

On the contrary, Planet 50-50 is the world where she is, where already does! She Can! She Will!

By harnessing youth power, we will not only ensure a Planet 50-50 latest by 2030, but make the gains irreversible.

Thank you.