Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the G7 ministerial meeting on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Paris, France


[As delivered]

Last year, Canada, under the leadership of President Trudeau, inaugurated the Gender Equality Advisory Council of the G7. The Council prepared a comprehensive report with recommendations for action by the G7 and many other countries of the world. President Macron has reconstituted the Council this year to advise France’s presidency. This is why we are here today and I have the privilege of speaking to you.

No country in the world has achieved gender equality. No country. And this is nearly 25 years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Do you remember that in Beijing we thought that we were going to achieve gender equality in the year 2000? Look at us now. We need this Council.

G7 countries are in a particularly strong position to achieve gender equality before everyone else. And because of that, it is the great responsibility of the leaders of the G7 countries to lead from the front on this issue, to use their power and considerable influence to move the world forward for the sake of their own women and girls, for humanity and for the sake of the world.

We know that where we have seen progress it is slow, it is uneven and it is subject to reversal. We want to see change that will last, change that is systemic and change that is irreversible.

The Council is concerned about the persistent threats and backlash against women’s rights. The United Nations is concerned about the pushback on women’s rights. What the Council is asking of the Member States and all of you here today is to is to push back against the pushback. What are we asking you to do? Push back. Yes, that is what the Council is asking.

Legislation is an important instrument for change that lasts, that is systemic, that is irreversible and that, when it is implemented, is funded, monitored and has both incentives and sanctions. And this is why it is so important that France has chosen legislation as an instrument for change as part of its presidency of the G7.

The #MeToo movement was able to have the impact that it did not only because women were activists, and because women were brave enough to speak about their situation, but because the concept of consent became a concept in law. Many women fought for the concept of consent to be enshrined in law, so that when women came out to say, “I have been abused,” consent was an issue, and as a result of that the perpetrators were found to have crossed the line. Laws make a difference.

There are over 2.5 billion women and girls around the world who are affected by discriminatory laws. 2.5 billion women. And on average, women have only 75 per cent of the legal rights of men.

The Council has worked on a legislative package to form the basis of commitments of G7 countries and other countries, so that we can bring about change. Just by spending 16 US cents per woman per day, we can change the lives of 50 million women by 2023. Someone has to put the money on the table for this to happen.

Fifty million of the 2.5 billion is still a drop in the ocean. But it is concrete and we can expand, and we can track the change that we are making. The package proposed will outline key criteria in principles grounded in international human rights instruments that every country should meet in their legislative framework.

Laws should be comprehensive. They must be implemented and, of course, they must be resourced. The stereotypes and norms that underlie them must also be changed.

So, we are calling on the leaders in the G7 countries to invest and to take action in the area where they have the capacity to make a difference. Governments cannot do everything in the world, but it is only governments who can pass laws. That is why we are asking the governments to do that one thing that only they can do, and which has significant impact on the lives of women and girls.

Going forward, we will be working with the Council to make sure that commitments made by G7 countries are ambitious, transferrable and measurable. We need laws to be enacted, we need laws to be amended, we need laws to be repealed, we need conventions to be ratified—especially overarching conventions such as The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). We need to facilitate all countries being on the right side of history as far as these policies are concerned.

I want, in a few years, in my lifetime, to have my child and my grandchildren say to me, “nogogo (which means grandma in my language), is it true that moms and dads did not get the same amount of money when they were doing the same kind of work with the same kind of training?” And I would say, “yes,” and they’d say, “no, nogogo, you’re joking, that can’t be true,” because it would sound so impossible to our grandchildren.

 This is what we are working for. The fact that we are here with the leadership of the G7 countries using, amongst others, the facilitation of official development assistance is not a pipe dream. Our grandchildren will be able to say: the nogogos did it. What about that day? Forward with the nogogos and all of you in the room.