Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the UN and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the side event, “#MeToo, Now What?”

At the #MeToo, Now What?”,side event co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN, The Guardian and UN Women, at the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women, UN Women Executive Director talks about how to sustain the movement and urges the media to stay with the story


[As delivered]

The “#MeToo” moment is a tipping point, as we see it at UN Women. The work that so many women have done all over the world, for so many years, is coming to a head. It is a tipping point also because those women who are powerful, more visible, but also subjected to the same gender inequality and assaults as average and ordinary women, are standing up. And as they are standing up, they are also speaking for other women who are otherwise made invisible. It is important for us that the visible women make the invisible more visible so that this is truly a global issue that addresses women from all walks of life. 

During International Women’s Day, we had here at the United Nations both the actor Rees Witherspoon, and Monica Ramirez from Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. They were talking about how their two organizations have been working together to make sure that the fund they are setting up will make a difference in the lives of farm workers experiencing violence who are in need of legal assistance. 

This is also an important moment because impunity has been the order of the day. Powerful men have been getting away with their actions against women, without having to be accountable. For the first time we are seeing powerful men being held to account. That is important for deterrence. They had become perpetrators or repeat offenders, because they could, and because nothing happened to them. Accountability tells the younger generation and their own peers, that this is not normal, this is not right, and therefore you will be called out. 

It is important that this moment be sustained so that we can also save lives. Because women die as a result of entrenched behaviours of violence against them. We are right now mourning Marielle Franco in Rio, Brazil, who has very recently been killed. She was one of the best activists, feminists, politicians and fighter for women’s rights you could have. This violence against her did not start yesterday, when she was killed.  It grew, step by step, with increasing harassment of women like her, which ended in her death. It is therefore important that those who have the platform, use it to fight on behalf of everybody. 

In my previous career, before coming to the UN, I was Deputy Minister of Trade in South Africa. I became a Minister of Mines and Energy. I became a Deputy President. There, I had to affirm the authority of women and to demonstrate that when women do have power they exercise it.

It was important for me to demonstrate that actually every issue is a woman’s issue. Energy is a woman’s issue. The mining industry in South Africa is a woman’s issue. And being a Deputy President of a country is about addressing the issues that impact on women as well as the issues that other people saw as the mainstream issue. 

But at this point in time, we need more men to be in the leadership and visible role of fighting for gender equality. I think it’s a problem that we have so many women in this meeting, and not enough men paying attention to the issue. Part of the victory and a way of judging whether we are actually winning this struggle, is to go into these meetings and know that we are not talking to ourselves. We have to win new ground; we have to bring about change by speaking to the people who do not carry the message; we have to make sure that when a woman is harassed, the first person to take a stand and to take the fight is the other guy. It shouldn’t just be a struggle for women. 

The media industry still has men who lead and own media companies, who are shareholders. As decision makers, we need them to be the ones who are demonstrating zero tolerance and calling for the media that they influence to carry the stories of women. 

There are “MeToo” stories in many different parts of the world; they are just not being written about in the same way. Latin America already has been leading, with women taking to the street, standing up. We have in Africa a movement against FGM, against child marriage, led by young people, like the Maasai women in Kenya, who are speaking out about it. We have our own young woman, UN Women’s Regional Ambassador for Africa on FGM and Ending Child Marriage, Jaha Dukureh, who is standing in solidarity with other women who have experienced what she has experienced. She is saying to them “MeToo”, and therefore helping to stop this practice across the continent. We are asking that in the media you write about these women as well, and the struggles that they are leading, because it takes a lot for them to be in the forefront. There are women in Serbia, women in Kosovo, fighting gang rape, fighting trafficking, and standing up with the women who have had those experiences. These are all “MeToo” moments in different parts of the world. We have to find a way of bringing them together, speaking about them, so that we can see that we have a rich, global, diverse movement trying to achieve the same thing. 

We must sustain this moment, and institutionalize it in our work, making sure that all our policies live up to the expectation of a world where there is no tolerance for violation of women of any sort. My expectation and hope is that in different parts of the world, with our different campaigns, and in partnership with the media, we can sustain this tipping point. None of us must ever make a speech without talking about a tipping point, mentioning time is now, and media, should not move on until gender quality is reached. Stay with this story, because we will continue to create good stories for you, that are addressing gender inequality and ending the violation of women in every part of the world.