Charting the future: more equal, inclusive and sustainable

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the closing of the 64th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women


[As delivered]

It is a pleasure to see all of you, virtually, at the end of what has been a unique and somehow turbulent session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Thank you so much, Mr. Chair, for your strong leadership and for taking us from CSW64 and landing us safely over the bridge to CSW65. We are truly grateful for your leadership and for the leadership of the Bureau.

I thank the Member States for their dedication and patience and the cooperation that everybody has demonstrated at this time, including the flexibility and the resilience that has been shown under difficult circumstances. Your dedication to the women and girls of the world is truly appreciated.

The Political Declaration that was agreed when we opened the 64th session in March will serve as a powerful tool to help accelerate implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. And I thank Algeria and Australia for their facilitation.

The Multi-year Programme of Work for 2021-2024 provides strong and well-focused opportunities to tackle critical issues, and for Member States to chart key policy and other measures for action by governments and different critical actors. Again, I thank the Commission for this work, especially Vice-Chair Ms Devita Abraham for her leadership.

But we are now in a new world. We have to reflect on how much the plans that we have will stand up to the future that faces us.

The findings of the 25-year review of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action had already put us on high alert. Our sense of what lies ahead for the women and girls of the world has been further sharpened and made even more urgent by the pandemic.

The impact of COVID-19 has exerted unprecedented pressure on the structural weaknesses in our societies and economies. It has highlighted and heightened inequalities: women’s front-line roles as health workers, in service industries and in the care economy have become more visible than ever before. We now all know that women are essential service providers in the world, that they truly hold up half of the sky, and yet they are not as appreciated as they need to be.

We also have seen gender-based violence increasing — at home, online and in public spaces. And we ask all governments to ensure that the services women need at this time and beyond are declared essential services in every country.

We have seen access to justice and the courts often compromised.

We have also seen the ability to reach sexual and reproductive health services being reduced and we urge that this be given attention. 

The digital divide is keeping women and girls away from information and education and this is a sure way of leaving them behind. We urge governments to provide and to pay attention to the much-needed infrastructure for digitalization in every part of the world.

Women’s unpaid care work has been rising. Millions of girls are out of school, putting them at greater risk of child marriage, FGM, unintended pregnancies and HIV infection. All of this would reverse the gains that we have all worked so hard for in the last 25 years.

These challenges have given new dimensions to our work on gender equality and women’s empowerment. That is why it is urgent that we work together to build back better, and that we make sure that our programmes are made to respond to all these problems, including the allocation of resources that is needed for us to rise to this occasion.

While many of our ambitious plans for this ‘year of anniversaries’ have had to be put on hold, the imperative to put gender perspectives centre-stage is even more important as Member States design and implement COVID-19 responses. 

We are urging you to make sure that your fiscal interventions respond to the needs of women in the private sector, in the informal sector and those women who are in family businesses. We also urge you to make sure that your social protection interventions respond to women.

We all need to all work together, to prevent reversal of the gains of 25 years of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, and to take advantage of the impetus of initiatives like Generation Equality and the Action Coalitions, which are meant to assist us to overcome the challenges that we have all identified.

We must ensure that we use the lessons from past crises and do not simply rebuild the patriarchy. We have to make sure that patriarchy becomes a thing of the past.

The current crisis has shown not only the many essential roles that women play, but just how interconnected our world is. We know that a virus anywhere is a virus everywhere. So, we need the solidarity to make sure that we defeat and we conquer together.

Now, it is 75th year of the UN. Our commitment to multilateralism and collaboration has never been more important and the need for all of us to defend it is obvious to all of us. Gender equality is an essential part of achieving the vision set out in the UN Charter. And of course, it is also a vision that was enshrined in the founding of UN Women on 2 July, 10 years ago. We hope that we will soon have an opportunity to celebrate the 10th birthday of UN Women together.

The last several months have shown the growing momentum of the gender equality community. As we turn our sights now to CSW65, we have the opportunity to address the pressing issues facing women and girls and to chart a way forward that is more equal, more inclusive and more sustainable.

Finally, I cannot end this CSW without recognizing my dear colleague Christine Brautigam for her invaluable contribution to CSW and intergovernmental processes at UN Women. As you may know, Christine is due to take her well-deserved retirement, and I begrudge her that, but I know that the time comes for all people to take a break.

She was involved in the preparations for the 1995 Beijing Conference and was present in Beijing. Since then, she has been involved in all five of the ‘+5’ reviews of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as well as the 23rd Special Session of the General Assembly.

With all of that experience of intergovernmental affairs I don’t know how we will survive without her, but we wish her well and I want to thank her and extend our appreciation, love and respect for everything that she has done for women and girls. We wish you good luck and good health. Thank you, Christine, and congratulations for your stellar career.

I thank also all of the honourable members of the Commission. Thank you so much for being with us today and for closing this session, notwithstanding the difficult circumstances.

I thank you, Chair.