Speech: Impatient for change: Global action for gender equality

Opening remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the first regular session 2020 of the UN Women Executive Board


UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka addresses the first regular session of the UN Women Executive Board, 14 February 2020. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka addresses the first regular session of the UN Women Executive Board, 14 February 2020. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown.

[As delivered.]

Distinguished delegates,
Special guests,

I am very pleased to join you for the first regular session of the UN Women Executive Board. I would like to congratulate all the Bureau members who will guide us through this important year ahead. The President of the Executive Board, Mr. Jukka Salovaara, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Finland, has already shown major leadership and contribution through the convening of the donor roundtable, for which I thank him. And I thank all the other donors who participated in that meeting.

I welcome the Vice-Presidents, Sukhbold Sukhee, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Mongolia and Ms. Eka Kipiani, Counsellor from the Georgian Permanent Mission. I also congratulate the newly elected representative for the African Group to our Bureau, Ms. Victoria Sulimani, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone.

Let me take this opportunity to thank the outgoing President, Ms. Pennelope Beckles, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago, and the entire 2019 Bureau for their strong support. We know that we can count on them for continued support because they are gender equality champions.

I would also like to welcome the new senior-level staff who have recently joined UN Women: Ms. Sarah Hendriks, as Director of Programme, Policy and Intergovernmental Support and Ms. Oulimata Sarr, as Regional Director for West and Central Africa, who is in the room.

We also say goodbye to some senior staff members: the Chief of Research and Data, Shahrashoub Razavi; Director of Human Resources, Greet de Leeuw; and Patricia Francis, who was our Special Adviser on Change Management and who has finished her contract. I would like to thank her for her dedicated service, which many of you experienced and got to know well. And l welcome Sebastian Rottmair who will support us in strengthening the organization and to build on UN Women 2.0 and continue with the work that Patricia started.

We also take this opportunity to welcome our JPOs, 35 of them; it’s raining JPOs! Eleven of them are in New York this week for their induction. It is wonderful to see so many young people coming to UN Women. We welcome the Member States and thank them for supporting these JPOs. We thank the Netherlands especially for making it possible for two JPOs to join us from Ethiopia and Uganda. And I urge all developing and developed countries to help us further diversify this important pool of talent.

2020 is finally here! This is an exceptional year for UN Women and a chance to significantly accelerate progress for women and girls.  

Next month’s Commission on the Status of Women will focus on the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action since its adoption in 1995. The major findings of the Secretary-General’s report and its eight key strategies provide us with a clear perspective on the state of the world for women and girls. I thank the 167 countries who submitted national reports, as well as the Regional Commissions and the stakeholders for rich regional consultations. I also thank civil society and, in particular youth, for their active engagement in the process.

The Secretary-General’s report underscores the need to significantly accelerate action if we want to see gender equality achieved within this generation. We see great impatience everywhere and there is no interest in baby steps or incremental change.

We hope to see a high level of ambition at CSW and the adoption of a strong Political Declaration with a matching sense of urgency to close the gender gap, finally.

There has been a registration of 11,700 civil society participants for CSW—the highest number ever. I think this also signals the anxiety and impatience of civil society. We look forward to welcoming Ministers, government officials and colleagues from the UN System. And I urge you to please include young women and girls, if they are not at school, in your delegations.

Across the globe, women’s movements are energized by young feminists. They are challenging us to do more. They are impatient for systemic change. Their voices must be heard and acted upon. 

To support these movements and amplify their message, UN Women is convening a unique, civil society-centred, multi-stakeholder global gathering for gender equality – the Generation Equality Forum. It aims to reach the hundreds of thousands of people in the world who must hear our messages, through the conversations that we hope you will help us to facilitate in your countries. We count on you to promote gender equality in your countries, in your missions and within the organizations in your countries.

The Generation Equality Forum is a civil society-centred, global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, kicking off in Mexico City, Mexico (7–8 May 2020) and culminating in Paris, France (7–10 July 2020).

We will discuss the Forum and the campaign later today. Let me just underline a few points. The objectives of the Generation Equality campaign are: to recognize, mobilize and expand youth leadership for gender equality and women’s rights because it is their future we are talking about; to provide a platform for civil society and women’s rights movements to look at progress and gaps, and voice their demands; to ignite a global discussion on the global feminist agenda—where we are today and how we can make our actions even more meaningful to the world’s challenges as they relate to gender equality; to drive coordinated global action and develop a measurable plan to achieve the goals we have set ourselves, and to overcome the slow and limited pace of change through Action Coalitions.

I want to emphasize that the Action Coalitions are costed and measurable, with clear targets and ambitious commitments. This way I strongly believe that we can make real progress in the next five years. The actions will also form part of our UN Decade of Action.

The themes of the Action Coalitions are now public, after detailed analysis and based on hard lessons. Each Action Coalition will have one action intentionally focusing on the rights of adolescent girls as well as that of young women. Also, a focus on progress in fragile and conflict-affected contexts will also be central to Action Coalitions, which will include actions related to women, peace and security, and humanitarian action.

The Action Coalitions will also take on cross-cutting issues such as education. Each Coalition will be led by a group of diverse partners from all regions and sectors of society, including Member States from the global north and the global south. We look forward to your expressions of interest to be sent to us by 21 February. The leaders of Action Coalitions who are already known will be announced on International Women’s Day.

I look forward also to the leadership of Member States at the High-Level Meeting on Beijing+25 at the UN General Assembly in September this year. This will be an opportunity to take stock of what we have managed to accomplish in this review year and to get Heads of State and Governments to voice their support and commitments at the highest level.

2020 marks 20 years since the UN Security Council resolution 1325 was adopted on women, peace and security. And we want to mark this in a concrete way. We are calling on all stakeholders to commit to and implement six priorities, which we have previously discussed and shared with you. These are: protection and support for women human rights defenders and peacebuilders; women’s economic security in the context of post-conflict reconstruction; women’s full participation in peace processes and negotiations; the security sector, and peacekeeping operations - ensuring greater participation of women in that security sector; robust gender analysis to underpin everything the UN does on peace and security; and the financial resources that will be needed to make progress on all these areas. We will engage with you on these areas and hope that by October we will have tangible plans.

2020 also marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of UN Women by the UN General Assembly. When we were formed in 2010, the Sustainable Development Goals did not exist, and when the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted, we did not exist.

Today we are a fully-fledged institution focused on supporting the implementation of both the Beijing Platform for Action and the SDGs through our triple mandate of normative support, UN coordination and operational work, and we give due attention to both in our work.

We now move forward, intending to scale up our work in our second decade and we thank you for the support that you have given us in the last ten years. We also call on the UN Women Alumni to celebrate this milestone with us; those people who have worked with UN Women, or been associated with UN Women, wherever they are. They remain part of UN Women and we hope they are the custodians of our mandate.

In another milestone, the preliminary 2019 Contributions Revenue for UN Women will reach around USD 503 million for the first time ever, considerably boosted by the USD 60 million from the EU–UN Spotlight Initiative. I would like to thank you for your support and for the contributions you have made in all those years, in particular what you have done to make us reach this point.

However, when we disaggregate the figures, we see that, in fact, regular resources actually decreased in 2019. Preliminary figures show a reduction of USD 7 million compared to 2018, and a funding gap of around USD 58 million against the budget projection of USD 200 million.

The sustainability of UN Women, and our ability to deliver high quality and timely programmes, depends on a healthy balance between core and non-core resources. So, we will continue to work with you and hope that we can address this discrepancy. The decline in the share of core contributions compared to non-core from 55 per cent in 2011 to around 29 per cent in 2019 is of serious concern. Core resources are essential for our institutional strength and to effectively address some of the challenges that we continue to face. Nevertheless, I do thank Member States for all the continuing support that we have received.

On our side, we have taken action to address the bottlenecks and ensure that we make improvements that make us an efficient organization. We are changing to optimize our institutional capacity to deliver impactful results. And we are taking full advantage of the repositioning of the UN development system to expand our reach and be most cost-effective.

We have already achieved some important milestones in the change management process. We have begun the—sometimes painful—process of strengthening our capacity to serve the girls and women of the world. This requires us to work differently in some countries by fully leveraging the rest of the UN system, and that means sometimes we may not be physically present in the country. I want to assure you that does not mean we are deserting those countries, but we strengthen our presence through working with other UN agencies.

We are introducing systematic reviews of the portfolio of our interventions so that lessons learnt from past implementation can guide design in the future. In parallel, we will begin decentralizing some capacity to the field.

We have also made changes to our Headquarters structure and enhanced our internal processes and decision-making structures to improve accountability and performance management. We have created a new hub in our Strategic Partnerships Division to engage with private sector partners not just from a fundraising perspective but also transformative change.

We have also taken important steps towards a more inclusive and high-performing workplace culture for our workforce and to make sure that, at the same time, our workforce feels valued. We have developed an “inclusive workplace plan”. The initial plan will be further revised in consultation with staff and following the results of the recent leadership and team culture survey that we recently conducted in coordination with the UN Staff College and aligned work of the UN Leadership framework. The results are yet to be released.

We follow through on all the complaints that we receive on workplace relations and any misconduct. We take action and depend also on the work of OIOS for investigations. In the 10 years of our existence we have investigated every complaint that we have received and, depending on the different gravity and nature of the misconduct and wrongdoing, we have taken appropriate action.

The number of allegations, investigations and actions taken are transparently reported to the Member States during the annual meeting of the Board in the session on audit and investigations. Last June we presented to the Board the recommendations of the Deloitte Independent Review of UN Women’s policies and procedures on sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment. This June at the annual meeting, we will provide you with an update.

Another strong signal of a well-regulated and functioning entity is a clean audit. I am therefore pleased to announce our eighth consecutive unqualified audit opinion for the year ended 31 December 2018. We continue to make progress on implementing audit recommendations. As of January, we have completed 92 per cent of them.

These changes take place in the broader context of the repositioning of the UN Development System. We see UN reforms as an opportunity both to strengthen system-wide attention to gender equality and to make institutional changes that bring us the capacities to have greater impact.

We have focused our engagement in UN reform on three main objectives. First, ensuring that gender equality features centrally in new strategic frameworks, especially country-level UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks. Second, that the UN system continues to support a strong normative agenda and promotes the participation of key stakeholders in policy making, including civil society. And third, ensuring that smaller UN entities, like ourselves, enhance their cost effectiveness and benefit from harmonizing our business practices. And that is why in some cases we will rely much more on other agencies.

We continue to leverage our UN coordination mandate in support of system-wide results for gender equality. We play an active role in supporting joint capacity development, gender analysis, the development of joint programming initiatives, and we spearhead work to strengthen sustainable financing for gender equality.

We also support gender mainstreaming throughout UN operations and sectors. For example, we have worked closely with UN security to improve the gender responsiveness of our security protocols. This included co-authoring the system-wide policy for gender considerations in security management and leading the development and implementation of the system-wide women’s security awareness training. These are important steps to ensure that gender equality is not only the work of UN Women, but that others are fully equipped to ensure that women and girls benefit from their work.

Turning to the Mid-Term Review of the Strategic Plan: The repositioning of the UN development system; the Beijing+25 review process; findings and recommendations from independent evaluations; analysis of results to date; lessons learnt from the implementation of the Common Chapter with UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF, the fact that the SDGs provide a framework for action, as well as the work of the Action Coalitions will all feed into the Mid-Term Review of the Strategic Plan.

The review will provide an important foundation for the development of our new Strategic Plan for 2022–2025 and allow us to zoom in the areas where we have a strong comparative advantage and maximize our limited resources. We look forward to briefing you about our 2019 results and the Mid-Term Review at the annual session in June.

In conclusion, we are an organization that is coming of age: 10 years old. We are secure in our priority mandate and in the support of a rapidly growing network of partners in both public and private sectors. Gender equality is increasingly becoming everybody’s business as never before. And through Generation Equality, we will make sure that women’s empowerment and gender equality will truly become everyone's business.

We continue to count on the support, partnership and continued engagement of the Executive Board to enable us to be stronger and better-financed.

This session will be rich, and it will be busy, signalling a busy and full year. We are ready to do the work!

Thank you.