Press Release: UN’s largest gathering on women’s rights delivers robust blueprint on strengthening women’s leadership and participation in public life


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UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka addresses the closing of the 65th session of CSW. Photo: UN Web TV (screengrab)
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka addresses the closing of the 65th session of CSW. Photo: UN Web TV (screengrab)

New York, 26 March – Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, world leaders issued today a strong pledge for women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life and the elimination of violence at the closing of the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), as the countdown for the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico (29 - 31 March) begins.

The two-week-long gathering ended with the adoption by UN Member States of the Agreed Conclusions, its main outcome document, which recognizes the need to significantly accelerate the pace of progress to ensure women’s full participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making in executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and the public sector. It also recognizes that temporary special measures, such as quotas, and increased political will are needed as an enabling pathway to this goal.

The Executive Director of UN Women, which serves as the CSW Secretariat, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said: “This is the first session of the Commission on the Status of Women in 15 years to engage with the issue of women’s participation in public life and these Agreed Conclusions make important advances. The women of the world have made it very clear that the past and the status quo have not met their need for gender equality.” Recalling the devastating, discriminatory impact of the pandemic, she urged all Member States to move ahead rapidly to achieve equal representation. 

The Agreed Conclusions acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities that perpetuate multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, as well as racism, stigmatization and xenophobia. Yet, recent data show that women have been mostly absent from COVID-19 government task forces around the world – women make up only 24 percent of the 225 task force members examined across 137 countries.

The Agreed Conclusions make strong recommendations for concrete measures, which can enable women’s role in decision-making, for instance:

  • changing laws and policies that discriminate against women and hinder their equal participation in public life;
  • innovative measures to promote women as leaders, executives and managers, in all areas;
  • setting targets and timelines to achieve gender balance in all government branches through relevant measures such as quotas, appointments, or training programmes;
  • and encouraging political parties to nominate as many women as men candidates and promote equal leadership in their structures.

Young women are particularly underrepresented in public life and disproportionately excluded from consultations on issues that affect them, despite being involved in activities that call for broader change and address issues such as climate change and poverty. Women under 30 years of age make up less than 1 per cent of parliamentarians globally. Recognizing this, the Commission has agreed on the need for measures that target them: from access to education, technology and skills development, to mentorship programmes, increased financial support, and protection from violence, and recognized the benefits of early exposure to women leaders as role models, as well as of legislative and policy-making spaces.

Other recommendations include measures to eliminate, prevent and respond to all forms of violence against women and girls in public and private spaces, end impunity of perpetrators, and support victims and survivors’ full recovery, for instance through access to psychosocial support, affordable housing and employment.

Scene from the General Assembly Hall during the closing session of the 65th session of CSW. Photo: UN Web TV (screengrab)
Scene from the General Assembly Hall during the closing session of the 65thsession of CSW. Photo: UN Web TV (screengrab)

Recognizing women’s important role as agents of change in responding to climate change, the agreement also stresses the need to reinforce women’s presence and leadership in all places where decisions on climate change mitigation and adaptation are taken, and to ensure that related policies, plans and programmes account for the specific needs of women and girls.

The Commission’s outcome emphasizes the importance of the full engagement of men and boys in this task; and of the availability of data that is disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability, geographic location, and any other characteristics relevant in national contexts.

Despite this being the first-ever mostly virtual session of the Commission, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been strong interest from both government and civil society participants. During the General Discussion high-level speakers included a Prime Minister, 3 Vice-Presidents and 93 ministers — all expressing their strong commitment to advancing gender equality. Nearly 70 ministers from around the world participated in the Ministerial roundtables over the two weeks and more than 10,000 representatives from over 850 ECOSOC-accredited civil-society organizations registered for CSW65. Almost 150 virtual side events were organized by UN Member States, intergovernmental organizations and UN entities, and more than 700 virtual parallel events were organized by civil society as part of the NGO CSW65 Forum.

This year’s CSW65 was also an important bridge to the Generation Equality Forum, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the Governments of Mexico and France, in conjunction with youth and civil society. The Forum will kick-off in Mexico City from 29 – 31 March and culminate in Paris from 30 June – 2 July. The Forum intends to be a global inflection point for gender equality, driving major action and commitments for gender equality implementation.

The Mexico Forum will kick off the Generation Equality Forum journey by raising awareness and making a public call for action. Its opening ceremony will be attended by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President Emmanuel Macron of France, conveners of the Forum, Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, as well youth activist Elvira Pablo and civil society leader Sharon Bhagwan Rolls.

With civil society at its core, the Mexico Forum will reinforce the power and voice of feminist movements and youth, while highlighting the commitment and action of stakeholders, including UN Member States, the private sector and international organizations, in the drive to achieve gender equality.

The Agreed Conclusions of CSW65 are available here.