Speech: “The world has to fight gender inequality together”—Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Remarks by UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the W7 Women’s Forum on Inequality and Sustainable Growth in Rome, Italy on 7 April, 2017.


Thank you very much for this opportunity and for your kind words and introduction to this meeting. Excellencies, thank you so much for inviting us, and for the opportunity to engage in this manner.

We appreciate the recognition by the G7 and W7 that, notwithstanding the progress made by women in the world, we do not have a single country that has achieved gender equality. So we have a lot of work, and the work is universal: whether we are East, West, North, South, rich or poor, these issues bind all of us as humanity.

If we think, for instance, of the move from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, one recognition in the Sustainable Development Goals is the universality of the agenda of issues that impact humanity.

In the Sustainable Development Goals, we emphasize the importance of climate change. If you mess up your forest in one part of the world, it will mess up people in another part of the world.

The issue of peace is also universal. If we do not have peace in one part of the world, no one has peace anywhere in the world.

The issue of inequality is universal, between and within countries. The current extent of inequality means that people move around the world looking for means of survival and all of us will have to deal with the issue of inequality.

Gender inequality is a universal issue. Women everywhere in the world want equal pay. Women everywhere in the world want to control and decide what to do with their own bodies. And without women in the workplace, everywhere in the world, all of our economies do not grow to the extent that they need to grow.

Economic justice facilitates economic growth, and inclusive growth requires more women to be in the workplace. So, there are many common issues that women need to discuss, and that makes the issue of gender equality one of the most globalized issues of our time.

Once, the world together fought to end slavery. It was a universal issue. It did not have to be a slave’s fight to end slavery. The world, and the people of good will in the world, united to end it. The world fought racism, colonialism and apartheid together and brought them to an end. It was not just the affected people who fought. The world has to fight gender inequality together. It is not just women who must fight; men and women must fight together for us to achieve the kind of change that we desire. The nice thing is that victory is for all.

McKinsey’s research tells us that if women’s economic participation were to be at the same level as men, by 2025 there is a cool $28 trillion that could be added to the world’s economic growth. It requires all of us to want to do something about that to achieve the change for all of us.

We have just come out of two very meaningful engagements as UN Women. The first is the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which looked at barriers to women’s economic empowerment and participation, starting from the barriers that are experienced by girls, such as in education, child marriage, and the different violations that girls experience that stop them from realizing their potential.

We have also just finished the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women, where we looked at women in the changing world of work. These two dialogues reached the same conclusions: the importance of macroeconomic policies that recognize the role and the participation of women, starting with issues like gender-responsive budgeting. Those macroeconomic policies recognize that all countries have babies, babies need childcare, and childcare needs to be accessible and affordable, otherwise millions and millions of women cannot participate effectively politically and economically. The fact that in most countries looking after children is a private matter for women is a barrier to their full economic participation.

Men have to work so hard to become corporate animals and do not have time to be fathers. That stops them from being able to contribute to the care services of the family and in the process, stops women from being able to participate in the labour market. So, this is change that must happen: more men in the care economy, and more women in the labour market.

We also found, in the work that we did both in the High-Level Panel and in the Commission on the Status of Women, the importance of women controlling their own bodies; of having autonomy without discrimination; having access and respect for their rights, both sexual and reproductive rights, and having access to services. The unmet needs of women, in the area for instance of family planning, are such that many women are having children that they do not want, that they cannot afford, only because we are unable to give them the much-needed lifesaving services that organizations such as UNFPA provide.

We also uncovered in the discussion and the work something that we all know; the importance of equal pay and of the fact that men and women alike want to be paid wages that are equal to the contribution that we make. That is not too much to ask for any worker. Up to now, that right does not exist for women in most parts of the world; this is a great robbery. We are therefore calling for governments, private sector, and ourselves to mobilize appropriately to change this.

According to the World Bank, in G7 countries, the range of the wage gap is between 11 and 20.4 per cent. Closing that gap has to be in reach for the G7 countries. I encourage and challenge you to lead us in this area. If you get it right, I promise you it will have an impact all over the world. Can you imagine that money in women’s pockets all over the world?

Of course, most women are at the base of the income pyramid, which means that they are underpaid and they are also in work for which there is no minimum wage. Those women, caught on what we call the “sticky floors”, cannot rise up, and will always live closer to poverty than prosperity. So, laws and facilitation of minimum wages are critical to move women past the sticky floors, just as women on boards and women executives play a critical role in making sure that the glass ceiling—and the steel ceiling, for that matter—are removed.

These are some of the examples that are universal, that we can all work on in every part of the world.

Lastly, I want to express appreciation for some of the decisions that were made by the G7 in past meetings. For instance, the call for technical and vocational education to be increased in developing countries, and for STEM subjects and STEM careers to be increased; these are game-changing moves for woman and girls.

The call for the Women’s Empowerment Principles to be signed by companies around the world, was important, so that companies can ensure that the workplace works for women. If G7 countries were able to assist us to promote women’s economic empowerment around the world, we would see many companies facilitating the active participation of women in the world of work, and that would also again bring prosperity to a number of women.

The third area where we appreciated the G7’s decision-making is the participation of women in the labour market. For all of the G7 countries, we see that as stimulating participation from women elsewhere in the world.

I want to salute all the men who are in the room. The role of men and boys is critical. To the extent that there is historic affirmative action everywhere in the world—which is why they are where they are—we need men to turn the terms around and make sure that there is affirmative action for women and we can have equality for all. Thank you.