Remarks by UN Women Executive Director in Mogadishu, Somalia

Remarks delivered by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, to prominent women in politics, business and civil society in Mogadishu, Somalia, at an event hosted by the Benadir Chapter of the National Coordination Platform on Women, Peace and Security  

Date: Monday, August 20, 2018

[As delivered]

I want to acknowledge your courage, because I know that there are security issues that you have to contend with, and sometimes, when you go about doing your good work, you risk your own lives. In every country, in every situation where we are trying to build peace, the biggest army for peace is women. If women are not there we will not get real peace. We know that because of you, the future of our girls will be brighter. So, to the Benadir Chapter of the National Coordination Platform on Women, Peace and Security, bravo.

I also want to congratulate the women of Somalia for the gains that you made in the elections of 2016 and 2017, when women’s representation in the Federal Parliament rose to 24 per cent. We need to repeat that in 2020—rising even higher. What you achieved was as a result of a coordinated approach. We know that nothing happens if we don’t organize and coordinate ourselves.

There are opportunities to improve the lives of women. The constitutional review is an opportunity for women to make sure that the constitution of this country is a building block towards a better life. Review of a constitution, in any nation, does not happen every day—maybe it happens once in a generation. If we miss this, our next chance may not come until the time of our grandchildren, and we cannot allow that to happen.

Today, the Prime Minster told me that it is important that what comes out of the constitutional review process makes the lives of the women of Somalia better, today and tomorrow.

I want to commend you, as the women of Somalia, for your hard work and your entrepreneurial spirit. Through you, we can build local economies, regional economies and national economies. Women are needed at a micro enterprise level as well as at a macro level, as part of big businesses. Every part of the economy is your stage. You also must be in every sector of the economy. We need women in agriculture, we need women in technology, in infrastructure, and we need women in manufacturing. Every part of the economy is a place where women must be visible and represented.

So, as you organize yourselves, let us make sure of the goal of entering all the sectors of the economy and making a difference there, demanding the support that you deserve. We have to take advantage of the fact that the government has recognized the importance of gender and human rights by having these as a separate Pillar in the National Development Plan. That too is important for creating an environment of success in the economic sphere. UN Women is working closely with the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development to fulfil the commitments of the National Development Plan, and we are thankful for the cooperation that we enjoy with the Minister.

We have to fight gender-based violence. The fact that violence against women in this country is so high has to be one of the critical issues that we address as this gathering and in this organization. It is critical that you make sure that the Parliament approves the Sexual Offences Bill, because without the law that protects women, women do not have any recourse when they experience violence. You must also make sure that child marriage and female genital mutilation are a thing of the past in this country. This will not happen unless women stand up, organize and work together.

We must also understand that it is one thing to have the law; it is something else to have the law implemented. You must have the strategy to make sure that your religious leaders, that schools, that traditional leaders and everybody at a community level know what the law says and does something about implementing it.

We are your partners as UN Women. Count on us—in every part of the country—to make sure that the laws that are meant to end discrimination against women are effectively implemented.

In the 19th century the world fought slavery, and slavery was in large part defeated, even though we still have modern-day slavery today that we still have to fight. Even though slavery had been accepted as a way of life, slaves who were oppressed in many parts of the world enjoyed solidarity with many other people. That enabled the world to end slavery as it was in the 19th century.

In the 20th century, Africa, Asia and every part of the world fought against colonialism and the occupation of foreigners on our land. That is why we now have independent countries. We also fought racism. In my country of South Africa, we fought apartheid and we defeated racism in South Africa in its formal structure. But right now -- Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East -- everybody is still oppressed by patriarchy, and sexism is still entrenched in our countries. That is why there is so much violence against women, which has to end.

The 21st century must end gender discrimination in the same way that slavery and colonialism were fought. Everybody, not just women, must fight against the oppression of women. That is what we need the whole world to fight for. Not just women, but everybody. And I thank you for leading this effort.