Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Remarks to Women's International Forum

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 01 December 2009

[As prepared for delivery]

Ms. Amy Hamidon, President of the Women's International Forum, Excellencies,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

What a pleasure to be with you.

Let me recognize the distinguished women ambassadors who are with us today.

This is not the first time I am meeting you.

I have met most of you, individually or in small groups, here at UN Headquarters, at my residence or, in some cases, in your residences, too.

But now that I see you all together, as part of the Women's International Forum, I feel an energy. I feel empowered by your strength!

When I am in the presence of this kind of energy, it seems to me there is nothing we cannot do. Nothing. As members of the UN family, you are our natural allies.

Women have been described as holding up “half the sky”. You are at the centre of all our hopes. I say this not because I am speaking to a women's group, but because it is objectively true.

So I welcome your engagement, including through this series of regular briefings.

And it is timely indeed that you should want me to focus today's get-together on climate change, just six days from the opening of the crucial UN conference in Copenhagen.

I want to talk to you about the climate crisis – but also about the related challenge of the Millennium Development Goals.

The headlines leading up to next week's climate conference in Copenhagen are filled with numbers -- important numbers on emission cuts.

But let us also think of what these numbers mean in personal terms.

Think of the women who, as a result of desertification linked to climate change, will have to forage even farther and longer for wood and water.

Think of the women small-holder farmers who could see their crop yields fall by half over the next decade because of increasingly erratic rainfall.

Think of the women who depend directly on the environment for their livelihoods and for the well-being of their families and communities.

In most parts of the world, more than half, sometimes seventy to eighty per cent, of the burden of these challenges is borne by women.

People who have been the least responsible for causing climate change are suffering first and worst from its effects.

But let us also remember: to see women only as victims is to miss the point.

So let us also think of the women who are custodians of local knowledge about food rationing, water harvesting, and forest conservation.

Let us recognize how their insights can point the way toward sustainable natural resources management and green prosperity for all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we prepare for the summit in Copenhagen, there is much expectation all around.

In recent weeks, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Russia, the European Union and my own country, Korea, have all stepped forward with new, specific proposals for cutting carbon emissions.

The United States and China have agreed to work together and have announced their emission reduction targets.

And at least 90 presidents and prime ministers will be coming to Copenhagen. Such high-level attendance is a game-changer.

Over this past weekend, I was in Trinidad and Tobago attending the Summit of the Commonwealth of Nations, which adopted a historic consensus declaration on climate change. President Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark joined me there.

From all corners of the globe, we now see unprecedented momentum for governments to act quickly and decisively. I am optimistic Copenhagen can be a success.

Our shared goal is to achieve a fair and effective agreement that will reduce emissions while helping vulnerable communities adapt.

Copenhagen can and must generate practical results right away, and provide a firm foundation for a legally binding climate treaty as early as possible in 2010.

Science demands that we act. So does economic common sense.

Some say tackling climate change is too expensive, especially at a time of global economic and financial upheaval. They are wrong. We will pay an unacceptable price if we do not act now.

I will look to you to help us take that message forward.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Climate change is not just an environmental threat; it risks global economic upheaval, political instability, and could undermine our efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals.

The deadline of 2015 is just five years away.

We have made a great deal of progress – on fighting malaria, polio and other diseases, for example.

But here, too, let us think:

Think of the 93 million children, the majority of them girls, not in school.

Think of the mothers who eat last and least for the sake of their children.

Think of the millions of women who lack access to decent work and social security. Markets may be going up, but so, too, is unemployment.

Think of the women -- one every minute -- who die of complications during pregnancy and childbirth from largely preventable and treatable medical problems. Maternal health is the goal on which progress has been slowest.

Next spring, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and I will jointly convene the major players on maternal and child health. We want to leverage commitments to accelerate progress and address critical gaps.

On development, too, we need to think again of the women who change their communities.

Consider Bangladesh, where the success of microfinance has transformed the lives of its people, mainly through the empowerment of its rural women.

Consider also the women who are shaping the policies of their countries through their growing presence in parliament.

Our efforts to reach the MDGs and our response to the global economic crisis must place women at the centre of decision-making.

Next year we will convene a UN Summit on the MDGs. We are pushing a Global Jobs Pact and creating a Global Impact Vulnerability Alert System.

And we are pressing countries to meet their aid commitments. In past economic crises, aid has been cut at the very time it is most needed.

Keeping our commitments is not charity. It is an investment. And it is critical not only for global recovery in the short term, but for ending poverty in our lifetimes. This is something we can do.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I said earlier that women are at the centre of these challenges. I cautioned against seeing women only as victims.

But there is one awful context where women are indeed victims, and where men must be at the centre of our response. That is the violence that millions of women will experience at some point in their lifetime at the hands of men -- the majority of it committed by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know.

Our goal is clear: an end to all forms of violence. An end to sex trafficking and rape as a weapon of war. An end to domestic violence, so-called “honour” killings and female genital mutilation and cutting. An end to the discrimination and mindsets that perpetuate this violence. An end to silence and impunity.

My policy on these crimes is also clear: zero tolerance.

One year ago, I launched my Campaign “UNiTE to End Violence against Women”. I acted not only as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, but as a son, a husband, a father, a grandfather.

More than five million people have signed the Say No to Violence Against Women initiative under the Unite campaign.

I referred earlier to women as holding up “half the sky”. Let the men hold up the other half as well!

With that in mind, just last week, here at UN Headquarters, we launched the Network of Men Leaders to end this violence. Bishop Desmond Tutu, Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, former Chilean President Lagos and others pledged to add their voices to the growing global chorus.

And indeed, there are many positive examples of men taking action.

Judges whose decisions paved the way to fight abuse in the workplace.

Organizations that counsel male perpetrators of violence.

Individual men and boys who dare to say “No more”.

The list is growing, but it is not long enough. This will continue to be one of my top priorities in the year ahead.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Here at the United Nations, as you know, the General Assembly has agreed to create a powerful and dynamic new gender equality entity for women's empowerment.

Where now we have four women-specific entities, soon we will have one that is better resourced, with a stronger field presence.

We look to Member States to finalize this process swiftly. The fifteenth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is approaching. How wonderful it would be to have the new entity up and running by then -- don't you agree?

I will be working with the Deputy Secretary-General to make this happen.

I will also continue to appoint more women to senior posts. Since taking office, nine new women Under-Secretaries-General have joined my team. I will soon appoint two more women USGs for the posts of Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme and as head of the new gender equality entity.

We have more women USGs than at any time in UN history – and many of them are the first women appointees to positions which have traditionally been held by men over the past six decades.

Overall, the number of women in senior posts -- at the rank of DSG, USG and ASG -- has increased by 40 per cent under my tenure.

I will continue to do everything I can to ensure the equality and empowerment of women and girls.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

For all the grave threats we face, this is also a time when transformational change is possible – big change on the big issues of our age. And one of the biggest issues is achieving equality between women and men.

We must rise to the challenge with a renewed multilateralism – stronger global cooperation for a better world.

Thank you. Now I would be happy to take a few questions.