International Women’s Day

Closing remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the official commemoration of International Women’s Day in New York

“Together, we will build the society that we want”

Date: Friday, March 6, 2020

[As delivered]

Thank you very much, to our Moderator, Sade.

As we now draw to a close, I would like to thank the panelists for their very interesting ideas and for sharing the stories of their lives. I also want to thank especially the guests who spoke to us earlier today: the UN Secretary-General and the Prime Minister of Finland, and the message from the President of the UN General Assembly. Today has really been a reflection about how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Because up to date a lot of work has been done, but our best has not been good enough.

And, as we think of Beijing and the anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, let us also acknowledge with deep thanks and solidarity the health workers in China and everywhere in the world, who are selflessly attending to the health crisis, in many cases also risking their own lives.

I want to give a shout-out to those who are not here today and thank them so much for the support they have always given this occasion. We have been reminded not just of the work that we still need to do but of the strategies that we have to adopt in order to succeed.

We have highlighted the importance of cooperation, of working in an intergenerational and a multi-stakeholder manner. This is what we intend to do with Generation Equality and the Action Coalitions that will bring different stakeholders to work together.

I want to also thank the team in UN Women that put together this event. This year was different because we had to deal with many challenges, but thank you so much for making it as interesting as it was.

In the future, as women and as our just-released report say [Gender equality: Women’s rights in review 25 years after Beijing], we don’t want to squeeze into just 25 per cent of the space. What has come out in the report is that women occupy 25 per cent of the space in power and in places of influence: 75 per cent of the parliamentary seats are held by men; 73 per cent of managerial positions are held by men; and 70 per cent of climate negotiators are men. So there is this 20-25 per cent space that we are being squeezed into. Today, we are breaking out. We want to march to the 50 per cent, because 50 per cent is what really matters. And we want to work together to achieve that 50 per cent.

We also learned many lessons in this report that show us that change is possible. If you were not pushing against the pushback things would be much worse. So, we cannot and should not be discouraged. It has to be ‘forward ever and backward never’. The young people that we have seen today onstage have shown us that they are ready for the task. And so are we. And together we can make that positive change.

On Monday, as we meet for the Commission on the Status of Women that has been scaled down, we will be thinking about the many women that could have been here, the many activists that could have been here, the many delegates from governments that could have been here, and we want them to know, wherever they are, that when there is an opportunity for us to gather together, we will do our best to make that happen. But right now that is not in our hands, and we regret that we have not been able to celebrate the 25 years of the Beijing Platform for Action in the manner that we had envisaged.

I also want to pay tribute to the Member States and many other stakeholders that have embraced Generation Equality. We are looking forward to the Forum of Generation Equality in Mexico and in France where we will complement the many actions that the Member States are also taking to advance the agenda.

So, together we will build the society that we want and together we will make the changes that we want to make. It is not yet time to rest. We have a lot of work to do. But for the rest of the day, happy International Women’s Day. Give yourselves some time to enjoy what you have achieved.

Thank you.