Opening remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the 2019 annual session of the UN Women Executive Board in New York


[As delivered]

Thank you, Madame President; Good morning distinguished Delegates, guests and colleagues. A special welcome to the delegates who have come from capitals.

I would like to thank you, Madame President and the Bureau, for your active engagement on all matters that require the attention of the Board, including the valuable Field Visit to the Caribbean and the Joint Field Visit of the Executive Boards of all the Funds and Programmes to Colombia.

Excellencies, I also want to join you in welcoming our new colleagues. You have already heard about our new Deputy Executive Director and Assistant Secretary-General designate for Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships, Anita Bhatia of India. She has had a distinguished career at the World Bank Group, with extensive experience in the area of strategic partnerships, resource mobilization and management. For example, at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), she has developed and expanded innovative partnerships in key areas, including conflict-affected states, gender equality, financial inclusion and support to women-owned businesses. She has worked in Latin America, Africa, Europe, Central Africa and South-East Asia. Welcome, Anita.

And Excellencies, I also want to thank you for approving the repurposing of this post and elevating our work on partnerships and resource mobilization to this level. Asa and I are very excited about the team being complete again.

I would also like to welcome Hanna Kristjansdottir of Iceland as Senior Advisor on Women’s Leadership. Hanna comes with extensive government and parliament experience in Iceland and as Chair of the Women Political Leaders Forum. She will help us to increase our efforts in addressing the underrepresentation of women in decision-making bodies through direct engagement with those who have the power to appoint and include women.

Almost 25 years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform, we continue to be challenged by the slow pace of change in women’s leadership – 75 per cent of parliamentarians in the world are still men, only 11 countries have gender equal cabinets and just 6.6 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. So, we really have a lot of work to do in this area.

And last but not least, I would like to welcome Edward Wageni who joins UN Women as HeForShe Programme Manager. Edward is from Kenya and he comes to us from Save the Children International in Kenya where he led initiatives that worked towards the social and economic empowerment of women and girls and is a thematic trainer on gender justice and sexual and reproductive health and rights, having worked with governments and civil society. His experience working on these key issues with women and men and boys is also an important addition to the HeForShe movement and our work on engaging men and boys.

I would also like it to be noted that this will be the last Executive Board session of Ms. Maria-Noel Vaeza, in her capacity of Director of the Programme Division. We are however very fortunate to have Maria-Noel staying on with UN Women in a new capacity as Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Her work in the programme division has made us better at achieving results on the ground and at ensuring that we get value for money in the work that we do. Thank you so much, Maria-Noel, for all your work, and good luck in your new position.

While we work for increased participation of women leadership everywhere, we are glad that UN Women staff lead by example. Today we have with us newly elected representatives of the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS/UN Women Staff Council: Vesna Markovic Dasovic (Chairperson) and Amsale Admassu (General Secretary). And amongst these members of this current staff council, we have unprecedented representation of UN Women colleagues who were elected to the Staff Council: Sylvia Hordosch (who many of you will know as Treasurer), Gulzada Bafina, Urjasi Rudra and Sonya Thimmaiah, as members.

I appreciate the wise counsel of the Staff Council and their collaboration on several critical issues, including our continued push for gender parity across the UN system; the improvement of parental leave policies, for which we have received support from our Goodwill Ambassador, Anne Hathaway; the review of policies and processes to address sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment; and advice on a workplace environment that has become a challenge and a cause for concern in parts of our organization. I trust these members are very well vested in these issues and they will represent all their colleagues in the UN very well. We are very proud of them.

I would like to assure the new Staff Council body that we know our staff are our single greatest asset. An enabling work environment is essential for our staff to flourish. I am encouraged by the strengthened open culture at UN Women, which has bolstered the courage of staff to bring forward complaints. At the same time, I am concerned by the relative increase of allegations.Some steps already taken to improve the situation include: management induction training; enhanced performance management; more rigorous selection processes; the deployment of professional HR staff to regional offices; and reviewing and changing reporting lines. I look forward to our further discussion on these issues tomorrow.

Turning now to our Annual Report, and the challenges as well as the progress it sets out. In that I have noted that the year 2018 marked the first year of implementing the new Strategic Plan. In many ways this period has been both the best and the worst of times for gender equality.

We operate in a context of heightened pushback to women’s rights but also growing awareness and sensitivity to gender issues. Awareness and good progress include heightened decisiveness in dealing with violence against women, such as the recent landmark decision of the ILO standard setting committee on violence and harassment in the world of work. The decision recognizes the right of everyone to a world of work that is free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.

We have decisive measures being adopted by the UN system to take a victim-centric approach to ending sexual harassment.

There is extensive work being done on changing toxic masculinity, including the research provided in the ‘State of the World’s Fathers’ report and the positive impact that it refers to when it comes to engaged fatherhood with children. We also work with men and boys through the HeForShe movement, and the IMPACT initiative that involves leaders of government, corporations and universities.

We also have seen the growing number of young people who are providing leadership, such as Greta Thunberg from Sweden leading the fight against climate change and Jaha Dukureh leading on ending FGM and child marriage in Africa. We see movements like the March for our Lives led by young people in the US speaking out against gun violence; and courageous young women in Sudan leading the change in that country. Women football players, including our Goodwill Ambassador, Marta, are shattering stereotypes, and standing up for equality and equal pay on and off the field.

The recent announcement by the Canadian Government at the Women Deliver conference of a record investment of 1.4 billion USD on sexual and reproductive health by 2023 was another example of leadership. Women Deliver also was an excellent convener for a civil society forum in which a record number of young people participated. The women’s strike in Switzerland last week was another milestone that demonstrated women’s full engagement in promoting gender equality and ensuring it is achieved. And we have seen the large number of Member States (144 to be precise) co-sponsoring the resolution on the General Assembly High Level Meeting on Beijing+25.

All of this has been achieved during this period that is under review, with some aspects in the recent past.

Yet in the same period, we have seen increased backlash against women’s rights, including new legislation that takes away the rights of women and control of their own bodies. In April, we saw the Security Council struggle to pass a resolution on sexual violence in conflict, denying us an even more ambitious resolution. Women human rights defenders continue to face threats, intimidation and attacks in a climate of impunity. In going about their work, they encounter the restrictions, objectification, silencing, exploitation and oppression that prevent women from exercising their fundamental human rights. And we are seeing the widening digital gap and the lack of inclusion of women in economic decision-making.

So, we are under no illusions about the work ahead of us. The importance of stronger resolve, building on partnerships, the need for increased resources, and creating change that lasts are at the heart of our efforts.

I am therefore pleased to report a strong performance by UN Women against our priorities and indicators endorsed by the Executive Board in this environment that is complex. Seventy-five per cent of all indicators in our results framework met their milestones. This was also the year with our highest level of programme delivery, which is testimony to our growing operational capacity.

Several achievements of 2018 are highlighted in the report. Amongst others, UN Women supported: the adoption of reform of 44 laws to strengthen women’s rights; capacity-building for more than 10,000 aspiring women leaders; better skills for almost 25,000 data producers and users to disaggregate data by sex; the deployment of the essential services package to address violence against women in 48 countries; humanitarian assistance to 325,500 women and girls.

We have also identified areas of slower performance and are taking corrective action. Also, to increase transparency, we have launched our Strategic Plan results portal. 

The year 2018 was also characterized by strong partnerships with our UN sister agencies and partners. We worked with OHCHR to support the implementation of CEDAW recommendations. Together with UNDP, DPA (now DPPA), we enhanced gender mainstreaming in electoral bodies. We partnered with ILO, UNDP and others to enhance access to social protection. Over 400 women’s organizations received support to engage in peace processes in partnership with DPA and DPKO. And, of course, we continued to work closely with UNFPA and UNDP to implement the pioneering EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to End Violence against Women.

We have also built a formidable partnership with the private sector through, amongst others, the Unstereotype Alliance, which is fighting stereotypes in advertising and the media space and has this year earned a Cannes Lions award for the work that we are doing with the private sector in this area.

The new UN-SWAP allows us to better map and understand the systemwide contributions to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Sixty-six UN entities reported under the UN-SWAP 2.0, showing overall compliance with commitments at 58 percent – which is not as good as it needs to be. There is still work to be done there, which we know because we were able to gather the data, thanks to the hard work of our colleagues who are implementing the SWAP. We continue to support the Secretary-General in his push for gender parity through implementation of the Enabling Environment Guidelines and its Supplementary Guidance across the entire UN system, including through capacity-building sessions for Gender Focal Points.

These are just a few examples of how the UN system, by coming together, can achieve greater and better results for women and girls.

UN Women has been actively engaging in the repositioning of the UN development system. Our focus is to place gender equality and women's empowerment at the heart of the reforms so that the entire system delivers for women and girls. A key aspect will be to ensure even more attention to gender equality and women’s empowerment in new Cooperation Frameworks (previously UNDAFs). We actively contributed to the new guidance and we are pleased that gender equality and women’s empowerment is recognized as a key principle. We are now gearing up our capacity to be able to engage in the development of all Cooperation Frameworks, regardless of whether UN Women is present or not in the country.

We have made necessary adjustments in our policies to recognize the enhanced role of Resident Coordinators and support them. In every UNCT, UN Women is gearing up to be the key support to the Resident Coordinator instead of assigning gender experts to their office.

We also continue to engage in enhancing common business processes. This is of particular importance to us as we outsource several business functions to others, especially where we do not have physical presence.

These and other changes in the UN system also require UN Women to adapt. This is why we have launched a comprehensive change management process at UN Women that Patricia Francis has been leading. This process also takes into account lessons learned from the last seven years.

It aims to achieve a broad set of objectives that include: a stronger focus on results and capacity-building for our counterparts; more focus on the services where we have a comparative advantage; a more effective structure that eliminates silos and duplications and enhances accountability; and enhanced planning and programming processes.

This requires a review of our regional and country presence against available resources to ensure our offices are placed in the right countries and staffed with the right people – a really hard act to balance. It requires enhanced field capacity by decentralizing some resources from Headquarters; greater clarity and complementarity of the portfolios of the Deputy Executive Directors; and enhanced knowledge sharing.

Further progress has been made in the review of our country presence. The first phase will be to ‘right-size’ our field footprint to ensure that field offices meet a minimum standard everywhere. This includes addressing comments in the recent MOPAN report which highlighted capacity issues at country level.

We will use clear criteria on levels of gender inequality and vulnerability, with funding projections to ensure sustainability, with demand at national level and UNCT also being determining factors. In the second phase, future growth will be determined by indicators that are closely connected to the Strategic Plan. In parallel, UN Women will strengthen field capacity by decentralizing some HQ capacity. This will allow UN Women to better respond to Member States’ requests for integrated policy support. 

The draft Integrated Budget includes an allocation for change management that I ask you to support.

Distinguished Delegates, UN Women reached its highest level of voluntary contributions in 2018 since its inception, totalling 384 million USD. I would like to thank Sweden, the UK, Norway, Japan, Switzerland, Finland, Australia, the US as well as the European Union for their substantial contributions in 2018.

While earmarked contributions have increased by 10 per cent, regular resources have only increased by 2 per cent. We urge more countries to help us by prioritizing regular resources. We also encourage soft earmarked resources at the country level, such as the direct funding of our Strategic Notes.

We are doing our best to meet requirements placed upon all of us to finance the ambitious 2030 Agenda. 

We have continued to diversify our funding, with a special focus on private sector partnerships. In the last five years, we tripled the share of revenue from the private sector to 6 per cent of total funding, but we know that we still have a long way to go.

I have assigned my Chief of Staff, Khetsiwe Dlamini, to look at more innovative funding opportunities, the results of which will soon be presented to our Senior Management Team and the new ASG for Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships to help us to take this work forward.

We are making progress towards the proposed targets of our Integrated Budget 2020-2021, which fully align with the result targets in the Strategic Plan. This will also be a top priority for our new ASG.

The year 2020 will be a critical year in this regard, marking the 25thanniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the 20th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325, the 5-year milestone of the SDGs, the 75th anniversary of the UN and the 10th anniversary of UN Women’s establishment. There has never been a better time to translate strong political commitment into equally ambitious financial commitment.

In short, as UN Women, we are asking for a birthday present which can come in an envelope, preferably.

UN Women’s second decade, our UN Women 2.0, is a moment to use the lessons we have learnt from our first decade so that we become a stronger catalyst for substantive equality by 2030 in as many spheres of life as possible. Our change management takes this into account.

Our preparations for the Beijing+25 anniversary events are underway. We welcome efforts in many countries to undertake comprehensive national reviews. As of this week, 83 countries have submitted their national reports. I encourage all States to complete their reports as soon as possible. And I ask you all of you to help us if you are in a country that has not yet submitted.

Regional and country offices are supporting comprehensive multi-stakeholder preparations at national and regional levels.

I welcome the resolution of the General Assembly, led by Kenya, to convene a high-level meeting to celebrate Beijing+25 in September 2020 and look forward to the completion of the work on the modalities resolution, led by the Permanent Representatives of Qatar and New Zealand. 

We are busy working with the Governments of France and Mexico on the Global Forum planning to engage civil society and other stakeholders in July 2020.

We have just launched our new campaign for celebrating Beijing+25, entitled: “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future”, which links these and all the other advocacy elements together, emphasizing the strong intergenerational nature of the mobilization and is very much focused on promoting youth leadership.

Twenty-five years ago in Beijing, women from all over the world started on a race to equality, and now young people are showing their readiness to take the baton and run with it for the next 25 years and beyond, with an aim to make a mark by 2030.

I saw this clearly at the Tunis Forum on Gender Equality two months ago and two weeks ago at the Women Deliver conference and just a few days ago in Dakar. There is a remarkable contingency of young people who are dedicated to gender equality.

In Dakar, I saw a remarkable pan-African conference organized by African youth survivors of FGM and forced early marriage, with the support of governments, the UN and religious and traditional leaders. These are African youth and survivors like our Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Africa, who put the event together, supported by the governments of Senegal and the Gambia especially. The youth are demonstrating depth, leadership and commitment to change.

It is clear we need to do more to create spaces for young women to exercise their leadership, including through funding them and making sure that those that work on the frontlines are able to make a difference and an impact.

In closing, I would like to highlight the upcoming release of UN Women’s flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women, on 25 June 2019. This year the report focuses on Families in a Changing World. It outlines comprehensive family-friendly policies to bring equality and justice home.

We are also looking at the Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in September and the opportunity to strengthen gender-responsive climate action. UN Women will convene an event on 19 July that will present women’s experiences and ways to scale up solutions.

We have received a message that in the current meeting in Dakar with young people, the religious leaders have announced a fatwa that explains the unacceptability of child marriage. That is a lot of progress, and thanks to the advocacy of young people, we have been able to work with these remarkable leaders.

I would like to thank Executive Board members for being such strong supporters of UN Women and of our common resolve to end gender inequality by 2030. And to the UN Women team and staff members in Headquarters and in every part of the world, thank you for your hard work.