Women’s leadership and decision-making has never been more urgent, say women leaders from across the world

At a global, virtual intergenerational event co-hosted by UN Women, the Government of Mexico and the Council of Women World Leaders, in collaboration with the Generation Equality Forum, women leaders convened to discuss the importance of diverse and inclusive feminist leadership.


As part of the Generation Equality campaign and the Generation Equality Forum, UN Women, the Government of Mexico, and the Council of Women World Leaders, co-hosted a virtual intergenerational diaogue with women leaders on 17 September 2020, on the sidelines of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly.

Celebrating the one-year anniversary of the launch of the “Leaders for Generation Equality” initiative, the event convened leaders from different parts of the world across ages and sectors to discuss how inclusive, feminist leadership can bring transformative changes for the world.

The event, taking place against the backdrop of the global pandemic that has disrupted lives and economies around the world, showcased the impact and importance of diverse, intergenerational leadership in high-stakes situations, and how equal representation of women in decision-making can help us build back better. The discussion allowed women leaders – both young and more experienced – to share their approaches and experiences from before and during the COVID-19 outbreak and make recommendations for the future.

Opening the event, moderator Victoria Budson, Founding Executive Director of the Women and Public Policy Programme at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, highlighted that “inclusive leadership can bring change for all women and girls”.

UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka emphasised the importance of inclusive and feminist leadership.

“Women understand what it is like to be excluded and therefore how important it is to be included,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. “That motivates and challenges women leaders, to make space for more women, for diverse women, because it is not entrusting to be the first woman at this or the first woman that. We need as many of us as possible if we are to make the changes that are required.”

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Prime Minister of Iceland and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, asserted that diversity among decision makers benefits everyone.

“When we have diverse leadership, we make better decisions and we are more aware that we need to be able to put ourselves in each other’s shoes,” said Prime Minister Jakobsdóttir. “For leaders, the most important thing is to be able to talk to a very different set of people and know that you always need to have diversity in mind as part of your vision, not just in leadership, but in everything we do.”

Minister of the Interior of Mexico, Olga Sánchez Cordero called attention to the urgent issue of gender-based violence, and the need to address the issue in order to continue empowering women to take up leadership roles: “We need to have an empathetic attitude towards women's movements and strengthen the justice system so that women find a real answer within this system.”

Youth leaders emphasized the urgent need to place the leadership of young women and adolescent girls at the heart of the agenda, to ensure their voices, needs and demands are heard loud and clear. Participating women leaders also highlighted the crucial need to not only build back better, but build back transformed after the pandemic.

“Exclusions generate a higher impact in a global pandemic,” said Epsy Campbell, Vice President of Costa Rica. “We see groups that have been left behind have been the most impacted.”

Encouraging fellow leaders to take urgent action, youth leader Alaa Murabit called to recognize and address the existing problems exposed and emphasized by COVID-19.

“COVID did not create new inequalities, it highlighted and exacerbated existing ones. What has been glaringly clear is that women, particularly women from lower income communities, women of color, women from the Global South, do not have the same level of power and agency in their communities, and to be quite honest, of protection and security,” Dr. Murabit said. “If we are going to be realistic about building back better, we have to be honest about what’s broken now. And what’s broken is that we continue to create policies that serve a select few that are at the top, that tend to be predominantly male, and white male at that.” 

As leaders shared their recommendations for concrete steps needed to close the gender gap in the participation of women in decision-making spheres, Founder of the MeToo movement Tarana Burke raised the critical issue of recognizing the diversity of women’s voices and within the women’s movements: “People often talk about diversity and bringing in more women to leadership roles, but women aren’t a monolith. We have to agree that women should also be more diverse.”

Expressing her aspirations for the Generation Equality Forum, Anika Jane Dorothy, a Beijing +25 Youth Task Force Member and Executive Director of Green Congress of Kenya explained: “I feel like the Generation Equality Forum is one of the platforms that can create a home for the new wave of young feminists.” The dialogue initiated at the event will further guide the Generation Equality Forum, scheduled to take place in 2021, to ensure that women’s leadership is placed front and centre on the agenda.

The event attracted more than 2000 registrations from participants around the world and stimulated vibrant online exchanges among the panellists and the audience. The event closed with a lightning round where each woman leader outlined a Call to Action on gender equality and women’s leadership to their peers and the world.

“It is so critical to build constituencies,” said UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Be a leader with followers, make sure it is not just your handbag that’s behind you.”