Speech: Transforming the economies of the world so that they work for women

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the Leave no one behind: Roundtable of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel (HLP) on Women’s Economic Empowerment


[As delivered]

I would like to start by thanking all of you for being here—for your presentations, for your encouragement, for the work that you have done thus far, and the work that you are going to do moving forward.

I want to recognize and thank the members of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, some of whom are here with their deputies. One of the anchor supporters of this work who is helping us to move forward is the ITC (International Trade Centre), which is another sister agency of the UN, and here with us today. They also gave this work a boost, and we thank you so much for the work that you do to engender trade policies so that trade matters to women.

We have heard that many of the partners who are here have worked in the area of policies and laws. We heard from many Member States who have presented today. For example, the United Kingdom, which is an anchor partner for this initiative, has already passed laws to advance the work of the Panel.

We have heard from partners who are working with the private sector, who are paying attention to transforming that sector, so that it also participates in transforming the economies of the world, so that those economies work for women.

We also heard from multilateral institutions. We heard from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) on the number of initiatives that it is going to be looking into at the macroeconomic level to make sure that we are truly making economies work better for women. We also heard from Oxfam that we need to push the frontiers even more.

So, there is an interesting discourse happening out there. Importantly, we are getting involved from all angles, with different stakeholders bringing their own approaches to transforming the space of women’s economic empowerment.

In UN Women, we have embedded the findings of the Panel in our Strategic Plan for 2018 – 2021. So, in the coming years you will be able to judge our work in the implementation of the Strategic Plan by the extent to which we will be pursuing our commitments. For example, we are addressing the norms and stereotypes that hinder women’s equality, with a specific emphasis on women’s economic empowerment. In that regard, we have launched the Unstereotype Alliance, with 20 major companies that have the biggest marketing and advertising budgets in the world—from Unilever to Google, AT&T, Procter & Gamble and Facebook. Their goal is to transform themselves so that they do not perpetuate stereotypes against women through their advertising and marketing.

Unilever alone spends some $9 billion per year on advertising. What chance does UN Women have to compete against such big budgets? We need the companies themselves to transform their fields, so that we are not the ones trying to transform them. Our strategy has been to work with companies, so that they take the lead, using their own resources to facilitate their transformation.

We have also proceeded with the changing of laws. This is an area in which UN Women is empowered to work, as part of our mandate. A lot of the laws that we are focusing on with our Member States have to do with changing the economic value of women. For instance, ensuring that as many countries as possible take concrete actions to address the ending of forced and early marriage. In the African Union, we have a very strong partnership for addressing this unacceptable practice. Just yesterday, four Member States—Zambia, Senegal, Malawi and Uganda—presented the progress that they were making in addressing this, with no-one less than the country presidents sitting onstage. They sat, they made the case, and they committed. We agreed that every year we will profile different countries, which will present the progress that they are making on this issue, so that by 2030, in Africa and indeed in the rest of the world, we will have addressed child marriage conclusively. These are just some of the activities that we are undertaking that address the work of the Panel.

The Secretary-General highlighted the importance of having recommendations implemented in a manner that is measurable. One way in which UN Women is ensuring that we can measure the work, and that we are walking the talk, is that we have launched a Flagship Programming Initiative called, “Making Every Woman and Girl Count”. This is focusing on data collection and ensuring that we can provide disaggregated data to track the implementation of the SDGs. We are very happy to announce today, for the first time, the five pathfinder countries that have been selected: Bangladesh, Morocco, Senegal, Uganda, and Kenya are the countries in which we will start this work.

We also have a number of countries who are also interested in becoming self-starters. So even though we have a few pathfinder countries, we have many more countries which will be doing this work, including Mexico, which will be launching its own centre of excellence on data collection. This will support other developing countries in a South-South approach. 

We are glad also that so many civil society actors participated in this endeavour, and that, at country level, each in their own way, given the limited resources that civil society has, they are focusing on implementing these recommendations. Many of them are focusing on addressing the plight of the informal sector. 

India is an important country in terms of the size of the population and the vibrancy of the women in that economy. Recently our office there launched its first business council, again motivated by this initiative. The Chairperson of that business council from UN Women India flew all this way to listen to you and is with us today. This is how inspired he is. So, we are really inspiring a lot of people to do the right thing. 

I would be remiss I did not also highlight some of the areas that I am worried about, to which we committed ourselves in the work to follow-up on the HLP, and that need to be addressed. 

By this time, we should have had more countries ratifying the ILO’s Convention 189 on Domestic Workers. That was our aim. We have not had enough movement on this aspect. So, I am urging Member States—some of you are very close to ratification—to take concrete actions in addressing this. 

We have not done enough on youth, which was another area where we had made commitments, as well as addressing women with disabilities. This is a work in progress, but UN Women will be launching a strategy on women with disabilities before the end of the year. 

We also need to be doing much more for women who are affected by conflict, as well as women migrants and women refugees. That also is one of the areas where we have underperformed. We do not have enough takers to support those areas, although we do have enough support in many of the areas that we have highlighted in the strategy. 

We are going to be working alongside you in ensuring that by 2030 many of the ills which we seek to cure will be as cured as much as we possibly can. 

So, thank you so much to you all and to the panellists for your excellent work.