Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the closing of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Date: Saturday, March 27, 2021

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank all the delegations for their dedication and hard work, which have enabled us to have the Agreed Conclusions today. I would like to thank the Facilitator, Mr. Na Sang Deok, who worked tirelessly for weeks to get us to this point, together with the hard-working Bureau. I also want to thank our Chair, H.E. Ambassador Mher Margaryan, for stepping into the role of leading us as we conclude this session, and I thank him also for having been in the leadership for the last two years, which has been an extraordinary tenure.

Excellencies, this Commission is entrusted with ensuring that women’s lives improve and that they are not held back, that progress moves forward, that we are not standing still, and indeed, that we are not in reverse. This Commission’s consideration of a priority theme is backed by the Secretary-General’s report and its context, facts and figures, which are intended to improve the deliberations.

As we deliberate, we hear directly from those women in the many side events where governments and civil society discuss in parallel. In addition, we listen to the voices of women and girls in our capitals, in our villages, and in our towns. We meet and deliberate on their behalf. Their voices must guide us and inform us, as it is their aspirations and the advancements of their societies, their families that our work is about. This is an opportunity to contribute, as nations united, towards resolution of problems that women and girls have faced over generations. Each year we have the privilege to influence and accelerate progress.

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. These Conclusions therefore contribute to important advances. The Commission recognized that imbalances of power persist between women and men in all spheres of life; and that, although there has been some progress in the number of women elected or appointed to decision-making bodies and administrative posts, we still have a long way to go.

The Commission has also recognized that temporary special measures, including quotas, substantially contribute to increasing women’s representation in national and local legislatures, and called on all governments to set specific targets and timelines to achieve the goal of 50/50 gender balance in elected positions.

The Commission further recognized the growing impact of violence against women in public life especially in digital contexts, such as cyberstalking and cyberbullying, and the lack of preventive measures and remedies. This calls for action by Member States in order to encourage the participation of women and protect women from these violations.

The Commission encouraged political parties to nominate equal numbers of women and men as candidates, to promote equal leadership in party structures and to mainstream a gender perspective in decision-making bodies in order to make sure that women are able to enhance the quality of decisions that are made.

The Commission also underlined the importance of engaging young people, and girl- and youth-led organizations. We appreciate the fact that the participation of women and girls has increased, including in this session of the Commission.

The Agreed Conclusions recognize the challenges faced by women human rights defenders as well as women living with disability. We also recognize that there are areas in these Agreed Conclusions that do not please everybody; that these could have been more ambitious conclusions; and that these agreements could have enabled us to make even bolder and decisive recommendations. We however urge Member States to use the recommendations as a building block and to outperform what is contained in these Agreed Conclusions. So, I encourage Member States as they go back home to find ways of enhancing the outcomes of this Commission in the manner in which they are implemented.

Excellencies, this Commission is not just vital for the women and girls of the world – it is also a deeply relevant body for the whole UN System. I therefore thank all my colleagues in the UN who have assisted us and participated in the various activities of this Commission, and who have been with us in the virtual spaces where we have sought to take our work forward. But above all, I want to thank you, the Member States, in all your groups, for the hours and days you invested in this hard work. You have worked diligently, which is what you do every year, and you have made gender equality part and parcel of your lives.

I also thank our civil society partners for their limitless commitment to the cause of women and for their boundless energy, for their creativity, and the inclusion of young people in the many activities that they were a part of this year, including creating a virtual ‘Vienna Café’.

We have all had our lives turned upside down by this pandemic, but you adapted and made sure we fulfilled our responsibilities, despite the turmoil. We changed our ways of work and even found a silver lining in the dark cloud that we faced.

The 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women concluded successfully under the steady hand of our Chair Ambassador Mher Margaryan. This year’s hybrid model for the Commission has given us much to think about. It has shown us that we can engage and include people in many parts of the world in our deliberations and that we can decentralize the work of the Commission and encourage activities in many towns and villages around the world. I hope that next year, as you consider and review the methods of work, that you take all of these experiences and see how they could inform the work of the Commission going forward.

Excellencies, women put their trust in this Commission and in the UN. This is why they turn up in such high numbers and engage so strongly in every Commission every year. This year, there were more than 25,000 registered civil society participants, and more than 700 civil society-led parallel events in addition to the 200 Member State-led side events. The pandemic did not deter them. Instead, they turned up in numbers in order to highlight the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and girls. I appreciate the fact that in the Agreed Conclusions we highlighted the impact of the pandemic and the challenges that are being faced by women and girls.

We know that we need to build back better, greener, in a gender-responsive manner, and in an equitable manner. We therefore need more advocates, resources, influencers, leaders, and young people who can be a force for change today, not tomorrow. With that in mind, we have organized the Generation Equality Forum. This is one way we will be able to support the implementation of these Conclusions, complement intergovernmental work as well as complement UN Women’s Strategic Plan, and achieve tangible results.

In Mexico City next week, in a mostly virtual event, we will take forward what we have learnt from the discussions of this Commission and look at how we take concrete actions. I thank the Government of Mexico for all its heavy lifting and creative preparations, which have enabled us to host the event in Mexico next week, where I will also participate. I know that Mexico is one of the countries that is exemplary in women’s increased and enhanced participation in public office. I thank them for their high representation of women, which also amplifies the work of this Commission and the priority theme for this year. 

In the next five years, we will work together to implement what we have identified as gaps that hinder our achievement of gender equality: from Asia, where Bangladesh is confronting a refugee crisis; in Africa, where we must stop the school dropout of girls and avoid a ‘lost generation’ of uneducated girls; in Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe where we have lost jobs and we must make sure that we facilitate the reentry of women in the labour market; and everywhere in the world where women experience violence. We must work harder to change this trajectory.

Excellencies, as this is my last session of the Commission on the Status of Women, I want to thank you for your support, counsel and stewardship. It has been an immense privilege to work with you and to work for you in my two terms, and it has been a great joy to see UN Women emerge in its ten years of existence into the formidable force that it is today, supported and sustained by you. I look forward to what it is poised to become, as it starts its second decade. And because our work is not done, I will continue to be of support, in a different capacity, wherever I will be. I will continue to support UN Women and I will continue to support you in this institution. You can always count on me. Thank you.