Speech: Making women unstoppable

Speech by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director during her first official visit to Senegal

Date: Thursday, July 26, 2018

[As delivered]

I want to thank Minister Salimata Dieng Diop, for your hospitality and the warmth we have received since we touched down in Senegal. My thanks also to the deputy speakers of Parliament who are here tonight, for the wonderful work you have done to advance the laws in Senegal’s Parliament that address gender equality.

I thank my colleagues in the UN system, our acting resident coordinator who is here with us tonight, my team from the UN Women regional office, the regional director Diana Ofwona and her team, as well as the team from the Senegal office.

Thank you to the excellencies and ambassadors who are here tonight, I can see women ambassadors, and it’s clear that girl power is strong in Senegal among the ambassadors. Thank you to all the leaders of different associations who are here tonight and made this occasion a success. Thank you to the young women who are here, some of whom we met with at lunch today.

If you are worried about the future—I saw the future of Senegal today and it is bright. These are amazing women who are focusing on not just conquering Senegal but conquering the world. I’m sure of that. I also want to thank the team that coordinated all of this from the Ministry’s side, from other government departments and from civil society—everybody who has made tonight as wonderful as it is. I want to also acknowledge the presence of one of my staff members who is retired but who continues to support the world that we do.

We also have UN Women’s Regional Goodwill Ambassador responsible for advancing the fight against child marriage and ending FGM in Africa, Jaha Dukureh from the Gambia. Jaha has worked very hard to fight these harmful practices that impact on women and girls. In the U.S. her successful petition triggered investigation of FGM in the U.S. and the subsequent Summit to End FGM. She had seen children from Africa in America suffering the same practice and she made sure this would no longer happen. Now she’s back in the Gambia and works from there to help us to address the issues here in Africa. She’s a nominee for a Nobel Peace Prize. Can you imagine a young woman from Africa winning a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting cultural practices that are harmful to women and girls? That will be a great day for the women of Africa.

I’m speaking here especially to young people: where you begin with your journey and your life— whether with humble beginnings, with difficulties—does not determine where you will end up. Continue to do the good things that you’re doing as young people because where you start may take you very far.

We are also here to celebrate the women farmers and women producers who we are working with, and investing in, with the government, and with the leadership of the Minister. There are 10,000 of them and these women are definitely going to grow from thousands to millions. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. Millions of empowered women starts with one woman, ten women, twenty women, a thousand women, ten thousand women—the sky’s the limit. Our vision at UN Women is to make it possible for the women to benefit from the fruits of their labour in every country in Africa where women are tilling the land.

We have a strong partnership with other UN agencies such as FAO, as well as with governments and with civil society. We also have strong partnerships with local governments and with the women themselves who want to be farmers and producers of food. In the countries where governments collaborate with us, it is easier for us to work in this manner. When the laws make it easy for women to access and own land; when they support access to finance; when they support access to markets and infrastructure for women to package their food, the women will be unstoppable.

Everywhere in the world—in Paris, in Tokyo, in Johannesburg, in Kinshasa, in Dubai— everywhere that people sit at the table and eat, most of the food they eat is produced by women who are invisible. We want these women to be visible. These women have no social protection. They work very hard but they do not have collateral, they do not have pensions, they do not have health insurance. As a result, when they age and die, they and their families become poorer. By supporting women to be organized we—together with them, together with governments—we are able to address these challenges that women face in their millions all over the world.

Next year at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) we will be focusing on social protection and infrastructure. These women that you see here will be amongst the women whose welfare we will be discussing. Senegal, thank you for always coming to the CSW and contributing substantially to the policies as well as to the agreements that we reach at a global level.

I urge you to mobilize women to come out in their numbers for the next election, to be available to stand for office and to use the parity law in the fullest way possible. We will be there to support you. We also urge you to use the affirmative procurement law to ensure that women entrepreneurs make themselves available to become active as sellers of the different goods procured by government and the private sector.

We have created a platform called “Buy from Women”, which enables us to ensure that women who are producers, who have something to sell, can be given a chance to organize themselves and to have a better chance of accessing finance, because their information is synchronized. We are doing that with women in agriculture. Soon we will be bringing this platform to Senegal—if it has not arrived already. This platform could be available for women in any other sector too. One of these days people will buy your goods in capitals all over the world. We must work for that. We must believe this can happen.

I would like you also to embrace the African Women’s Leadership Network, which is a network of African women that we are trying to launch in every country in Africa. Through that network we can support one another and show solidarity to women in other countries in Africa who are facing the most difficult violations of their rights.

Many of these women are in West and Central Africa. The UN system is working together for children, for women and for communities, to support West and Central Africa, particularly the Sahel region, through the difficulties, whether of climate or of conflict. We are encouraged by the partnership we have with the African Union in this work. One of the leading forces within the AU in doing this work, to mobilize women to be in solidarity with each other in the continent of Africa, is a daughter of Senegal. Madam Bineta Diop is I think known to many of you. She is a Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security to the African Union.

Today I came to celebrate 10,000 women and 100 girls. Next time I want to come to celebrate 100,000. I want to celebrate one million. It is in our hands. As long as people eat there is food to be produced, and there are women who are waiting to produce it.

Thank you.