Speech: Celebrating women of achievement contributing to sustainable development, peace and security

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri, at the High-level Lunch Celebrating Women of Achievement Contributing to Sustainable Development, Peace and Security on 20 September in New York.


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Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to start by thanking our hosts Mr. Amir Dossal, President of the Global Partnership Forum and his wife Tas Dossal, for bringing us together to celebrate a constellation of women leaders from around the world in this award ceremony which aims at giving a big push for women to be granted equal and full voice, participation and leadership everywhere and in every aspect and for making the case that we need the essential role of women of courage, ingenuity, vision and achievement to realize humanity's noblest and vital projects of sustainable development and peace and security.

We celebrate today this group of formidable women leaders committed to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to the peace and security projects in their countries and beyond in this interdependent and inextricably linked world.

They have demonstrated through their life and work, and their leadership in governance, diplomacy, social norm change and political game changing for the gender equality and women's empowerment cause, that women make a difference— not just a small difference but a big and critical one.

They have become incredible role models for their country women and girls and men and boys too, and serve as an inspiration across countries, regions and generations. UN Women has been privileged to work with them in their different incarnations.

Our awardees today are eminent women who have broken glass ceilings, have pushed the frontiers of women’s leadership and have paved the path for other women and girls to follow in their footsteps and become future leaders.

They are women whose voices are heard when it comes to local, national and international policy and programme making in development, in peace and security, in humanitarian action and resilience building, in the promotion and protection of human rights and in climate change action.

From their stance and area of influence, they have shown that when a woman's voice is heard, when she participates in decision making and when she exercises leadership, she most likely brings something unique, special and of high value and quality to key decisions and its impact on humankind’s biggest projects.

These incredible women have done their part in the realization of gender equality and women’s empowerment, contributing to the achievement of the SDGs and the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and peace and security.

Dear awardees,

Your leadership and accomplishments are an inspiration to us, UN Women and our dear partner the Global Partnerships Forum, and we are privileged to organize this lunch ceremony to present to you the Agent of Change Award.

It is also a sincere pleasure to see that this event is graced by the presence of many champions of gender equality and women’s empowerment and Amir Dossal is going to name some of them. I would like to recognize the presence of H.E. Vasundhara Raje Scindhia, the Chief Minister of the Indian State of Rajasthan who has been such an inspirational leader and champion of women's participation and leadership in governance and of women’s and girls’ empowerment and sustainable development.

Award announcements

I am incredibly honoured to stand here and present the Agent of Change Award to this year’s awe-inspiring women, an award which was created by renowned artist Spar Street who has created this iconic crystal sculpture to capture the concept of movement and transformation, of striving and progress for the Global Partnerships Forum, and shows his commitment to recognize Champions of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, in support of UN Women. We are grateful for his artistic collaboration and partnership.

We thank our good friend, Spar Street for especially producing such 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”

These inspiring words from our dear artist, Spar Street, says it all!

Please allow me to introduce this year’s outstanding awardees:

Her Excellency Madame Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway

I am honoured to introduce Her Excellency Madame Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, whose extraordinary leadership, dedication and expertise have helped advance Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in many ways. She has been a staunch supporter—political and financial of UN Women. Norway has been among our largest donors to the core budget of UN Women.

As Prime Minister and with nearly forty years of dedicated and decorated public service, she is an inspiration for women globally. Her leadership role in advancing the rights of women and girls and commitment to the SDGs, including as Co-Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals Advocacy Group, is remarkable.

We applaud her for her passion for women’s empowerment, and thank her for breaking many ceilings for women around the world. Your tireless efforts in engaging young people to ‘put planet earth on a sustainable path’ serves as a model for others. Paraphrasing her own words … “A critical issue for women is the possibility to be a mother and the ability to participate fully in the workforce” I would say “A critical issue for society is the ability of women to participate fully in the workplace and be a leader in every sphere and in the family, community, society, economy and public service and governance.

Her Excellency Madame Margot Wallström, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden

The following awardee is an accomplished politician, with extensive experience in the Swedish parliament, the Swedish government, the European Commission, and the United Nations as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict, a career most can only dream of. In both these capacities she has been a champion and worked closely with UN Women and driven political and financial support to it. Today Sweden is the largest core and noncore supporter of UN Women.

Her leadership role in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment through a ‘feminist’ foreign policy lens is a source of inspiration for all those who champion gender equality. Her signature commitment has been ensuring that … and I quote … “In all my work as a foreign minister, our policies must be built on the idea of gender equality. It’s about having a foreign policy for 100 per cent of the world’s population. It’s about never accepting a world in which violence against women is the number one cause of death and disability among women.”

Ms. Wallström has been consistent in stating that … “the protection of women’s enjoyment of human rights is of fundamental importance for each and every individual. It is a must for the prosperity and development of societies at large. No country can afford gender-based discrimination, which also constitutes a major obstacle to sustainable development.”

Throughout her career, Ms. Wallström has highlighted the linkages between women, peace, and security, including during Sweden's member ship of the UN Security Council and ensured that the international community takes into account and prioritized the important role women can play in peace building and conflict prevention.

Her Excellency Ms. Retno Marsudi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia

It is with pleasure that I introduce our next awardee, who is a prime example of a strong and dedicated leader. As the first woman to become Minister of Foreign Affairs in Indonesia - which happens to be the country with the largest Muslim population in the world - and with 30 years of dedicated public service, she is an inspiration and role model for women both in Indonesia and around the world. Under her leadership Indonesian diplomacy has championed the gender equality agenda in regional and global fora and been a consistent supporter of UN Women and its mission.

She is a consummate diplomat with an outstanding career which includes posts as Ambassador of Indonesia to the Netherlands and Ambassador of Indonesia to Norway and Iceland, during which she was awarded the prestigious Royal Norwegian Order of Merit. Her significant role in peace process efforts in Asia, including in Myanmar, has been tremendous and is truly commendable.

She knows that for a woman to get recognition is a great challenge which she has been able to defeat … “Women may have to work twice or three times as hard as men to achieve the same recognition, but if this is what it takes for us to be successful, then let us work that hard. We are more than capable.” Surely enough she has worked very hard and demonstrated that she is more than capable. We therefore commend her leadership and expertise which break many glass ceilings for women around the world and serves as an enforcer of gender equality.

Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of General Women’s Union of UAE

This award represents a true testament to the efforts of Her Highness Sheikha Fatima who has ensured that national strategies empower women in the cultural, social, political and economic fields and that tradition and culture must not be a barrier to women and girls’ empowerment. As the President of the UAE Women's Union she laid the first ever institutional foundation for the gender machinery in UAE and the Gulf Region. She blessed and strongly supported the unique and pathbreaking partnership between UAE and UN Women and the establishment of UN Women Liaison office for the GCC in Abu Dhabi. UAE is our largest donor to core from the region and also contributing in good measure to non-core resources.

Her highness’ conviction is that “Education is a true measure of the progress made by states to attain success and excellence in the field of investment in human capital, including women. An educated human, man or woman, is the basis of civilisation and the axis of advancement and progress.”

Her work and advocacy have resulted in women in the UAE gaining access to education, economic opportunities, and are centrally recognized as vital actors in the public sphere and critical decision makers. The UAE has the highest number of women cabinet ministers in the region. Women also play a prominent role in the economy, investing AED 12.5 billion and managing over 11,000 enterprises, which represents a third of investments in the banking and finance sector.

Women across the UAE owe a great debt of gratitude to Her Highness Sheikha Fatima. She has been the UAE’s compass in making sure that women have the tools and the opportunity to achieve everything they dream of achieving. Her Highness Sheikha Fatima still carries the torch and leads the way in achieving gender equality and women empowerment and I was struck during my visit to Abu Dhabi and in my meetings with her how she is called the Mother of the Nation by one and all and she has used that veneration to break the mould and empower women and girls.

Dear friends,

You may agree with me that while we’ve made some important strides, our work is far from finished. And that is why all keep on working towards a better day for women and girls. And yet this mission of gender equality needs constant nourishing and multi-stakeholder engagement, and active support—both moral and material and we count on all of you to be Planet 50-50 Champions in this effort.

So thank you all for your commitment and your passion. I am so honored and humbled to have you all here today.

I thank you!