Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Opening Plenary on Women’s Transformative Leadership for Gender Equality at the Generation Equality Forum, Mexico

Converting hope into strategy, investment and unstoppable action, at speed


[As delivered]

Thank you to everybody who has tuned in. I am speaking to you from Mexico where we have just opened the Generation Equality Forum. It has been wonderful to listen to all of you.

We are having this Forum just after the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which also focused on the theme of women’s leadership and participation. The nations of the world at the Commission called for and committed to effective and equal participation of women. They even called for 50/50 representation of women in all decision-making bodies, in the public sector and beyond. They called for participation by young women and women with disabilities. They also said that it is a right for women to participate in the governing of their own countries. I think we have to hold them accountable, supporting them to make this happen and taking our rightful role in pushing for the implementation of these very strong recommendations.

As US Vice-President Kamala Harris said: the participation of women strengthens democracy. Democracy is not quite what it should be when decisions that are taken without the involvement of those who are affected by them are just left unchallenged. So, this is our chance to challenge the absence of women in decision-making bodies as well as to support the way forward that will make sure that women are adequately represented.

It has been wonderful to hear some of the very concrete statements that you have made about what women’s leadership means. What it means for indigenous women and for young women, and what the responsibility is for those of us in leadership positions, which is to make sure that we are not the first and the last in these positions, but rather we are door-openers for others.

Generation Equality is about action. We want to mark an era where we are not only talking and making statements, but we are committing to action. In the context of leadership and the participation of women, the Action Coalition on Feminist Movements and Leadership has to be our hope, to make sure that what we are discussing here and what has been said by the Commission on the Status of Women becomes action. We cannot only hope because hope is not a strategy. Hope becomes meaningful when it is acted upon. The Action Coalitions are there to make sure that the hope that we rightfully have is converted into a strategy that we implement.

With Generation Equality we are in an era where we are fostering allyship. That is why we are so broad ranging – with women, corporations, philanthropists, academics, Member States, the UN – we are a broad force. And we are allies. We also want investments. That is why we have calculated what it would cost to implement every action that we plan to take and we are demanding that someone must pay for what needs to be done.

We are an action-oriented movement because we are concerned about timeframes. In the last 25 years, progress has been slow, and we are done talking. We want pace. We want speed. And we want to make sure that by the time we reach 2030, we have made a difference.

I will not end before highlighting the issue of violence against women, which is everywhere. Women who are standing for leadership positions suffer intimidation, physical violence, cyber-bullying, and they suffer together with their families. That reduces the appetite that women have for leadership and that has to end. Young women are also kept out of positions due to age limitations. We have to address that because that too frustrates young women, and it kicks women out of leadership.

We also heard from H.R.H. Crown Princess Mary of Denmark about the fact that every woman deserves the position that they have. We must make sure that it is understood that women’s participation and leadership is not a favour to them, nor is it revolutionary. It is a baseline. It’s where we start and it’s good corporate governance. In many bodies, if people are not represented where decisions about them are being taken – this would not be acceptable. So, we should go forward and take into account the intersection which has been highlighted so ably by Aminata Touré, former Prime Minister of Senegal, who highlighted the need for us to work together with all the other causes that are fighting for rights. That is also what Generation Equality is about.

So, we are starting and we are unstoppable.

I thank you so much for giving us these rich deliberations.