Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, on the occasion of the High-Level Meeting on the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, 1 October 2020


[As delivered]

President of the UN General Assembly,

Mr. Secretary-General,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action marked a new era in the fight for gender equality.

It has led to major advances, including 274 legal and regulatory reforms in 131 countries. Women now increasingly participate in peace processes. Gender-related crimes in conflict have been recognized and are prosecuted under international law. The lives of girls and women have benefitted from increased school enrollment and advances in maternal health and bodily autonomy. Recognition of the girl child as having distinct and different challenges has allowed harmful practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) to be tackled.

In 1945, the founding of the UN was a decisive and courageous moment. At that time, there were no women heads of state or government. In 1995, in Beijing, there were 12 women heads of state or government. Today, we have 22 such women leaders among 193 countries.

All in all, progress, but not yet enough, and too slow.

Women’s leadership, including young women, is vital in the face of urgent need to rebuild better after COVID-19. Women and the people of the world are demanding these changes.

In the Decade of Action and in the context of the SDGs there is no longer any excuse for these imbalances.

Multilateralism and the UN are indispensable; women believe in it, and that it must become even more inclusive.

Women are now calling for a leapfrog to 50 per cent representation, or parity in all spheres, including cabinets, corporate boards and throughout the economy, including women as beneficiaries of COVID-19 fiscal stimulus packages, engagement in all peace processes, and closing the digital divide.

The basic key pieces are in place to roll back extreme poverty.

We need to start now, with your Excellencies’ commitments at this commemoration, to recapture and ‘fast forward’ from the modest gains made since 1995, that are now under threat.

We need big bold steps not incremental ones.

This is the time for disrupters, young and old. Time for actions to change the course of history for women and girls, especially women between the ages of 25 to 34 who are increasingly more likely to live in extreme poverty than their male counterparts. It’s time to bring an end to discriminatory laws, norms and homophobia, to end men’s violence against women and girls, and make a concerted effort to put women at the heart of climate justice.

With that bold leadership must come unwavering political will, proportionate to the challenges, together with urgent investment to back the statements, especially investments in women’s organizations, young feminists leading change, and women’s ministries and agencies.

Our Secretary-General has shown how political will and decisiveness from the top can bring parity in the UN’s senior management and among Resident Coordinators.

We are at a crossroads. The future needs a meaningful intergenerational engagement with all races, genders, and people of different abilities, so that everywhere in the world, a 10 year-old girl in 2020 will be a thriving young woman in 2030.

I thank all those who are joining our multi-stakeholder Forum, ‘Generation Equality’, including governments, civil society, private sector, youth, and men and boys, leaders of Action Coalitions, and our co-chairs, France and Mexico, to tackle the unfinished business. And I salute civil society and youth for their radical, constructive impatience that will drive concrete change at scale to make sure we leave no girl or woman behind.

We thank the UN for its irreplaceable capability to convene, especially in epoch moments, as it did in 1945, in 1995 in Beijing, and in 2010, when UN Women was born.

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women in society and in the frontlines, where women are the majority of those saving lives, is an epoch moment.

The women of the world believe in the UN and the solidarity of nations. And that ‘We the peoples’ all together, can change the future.

It is in our hands.