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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Deputy Secretary-General: Statements

New York , 11 September 2014 - Deputy Secretary-General's Remarks to "Women and Girls rising" Conference [Check Against Delivery]

It is a pleasure to join you. I thank the Roosevelt Institute, Ford Foundation and all others involved in making this impressive gathering possible.

We meet here in New York at a time of test for the international community.  In this period of turmoil across the world, people are looking for hope. 

This is why I am glad to join you today for what is a powerful statement of optimism: “Women and Girls Rising.”
Nothing can rival the hopeful message of empowerment, engagement and elevation of women in today’s world.

I firmly believe that this is - finally - the century of women. I am convinced that this century will see a world where women and girls enjoy their rights and realize their potential as never before. A world where women and girls growingly live free from discrimination, violence, fear, ignorance and want.

We are not there yet, as you know all too well. The journey to that necessary destination has been far too long and arduous.  In 1995 we achieved a milestone in this struggle, when 189 governments set out a visionary agenda for achieving women’s empowerment, women’s rights and gender equality: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  As we approach the 20th anniversary of this landmark agreement, now is a critical moment to take stock of our progress.

Over the past 20 years, much has been achieved by – and within – the UN System:

Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon has made gender equality one of his priorities and appointed more women to senior leadership positions than all his predecessors combined.

UN bodies have made gender equality an integral part of their mandates. They have worked to strengthen the role of women in peace and security. Today, women are more involved in peacekeeping as never before.  Five of sixteen current operations are led by a woman Special Representative.  Our operation in Cyprus - following the appointment of the first woman Force Commander in peacekeeping history - features the first dual female leadership in UN history.  Women are also serving in UN police contingents in greater numbers than ever. This is important progress.

And, of course, one of the key developments has been the establishment of UN Women.

Since 2010, UN Women has played a critical role in advancing global standards and knowledge on gender equality. It has supported Member States and civil society to live up to those standards on the ground. Important gains have also been made on women’s access to decent work and social protection, and on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

One of the catalysts for our efforts was the adoption of the UN-System Wide Action Plan on Gender two years ago. This is the first accountability framework to systematically measure progress related to gender equality and women’s empowerment across the UN system. Almost the entire UN system has reported on progress in mainstreaming gender into its policies and programmes, giving us a much clearer picture of strengths and weaknesses.

Notwithstanding this growing momentum, inequalities remain formidable.

While equality in primary school enrolment has clearly improved, large gender gaps in education persist at and above secondary levels. Girls and young women continue to endure various forms of discrimination and abuse in their quest for an education.

Far too many women are still denied their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Since Beijing, new laws and policies on domestic violence have helped strengthen State accountability. But violence against women worldwide continues at unacceptable levels.

It is crucially important to engage men and boys in this work.  UN Women has launched a solidarity platform, #HeForShe, which aims to amplify the voices of men and boys speaking out for gender equality.

Sexual violence, and indeed all violence against women and girls, is fuelled by unequal power relationships between men and women. This is based on notions of masculinity that are deeply rooted in dominance, ‘power over the other’, dehumanization, female objectification, and sexual aggression. Changing these social norms and gender stereotypes will be among the keys to tackling all forms of violence. By adopting a positive, more mature perception of masculinity, men and boys can become partners in preventing violence.

Promoting women’s leadership is critical. Unfortunately, the number of women in power remains low.  Only one in five parliamentarians is a woman. This is an improvement from about one in ten in 1995, but it is very slow progress.

Further gains can be achieved by surmounting the range of barriers women face in electoral competition, including gender bias, cultural attitudes, fund-raising and inadequate support from political parties and the media. There is a range of measures that can be adopted to ensure that we address the unequal participation of women in political life, ranging from ensuring that women get selected as candidates in the first place to voluntary or legislated quotas.   Our political systems must be fully representative of all the people they serve - women and men.  It benefits us all.

In the international arena, the negotiating table remains a man’s club.  UN Women’s sample of 31 peace processes between 1992 and 2011 reveals that only 4 per cent of signatories, 2.4 per cent of chief mediators, 3.7 per cent of witnesses and 9 per cent of negotiators were women. The underrepresentation of women at the negotiation table is much more marked than in other public decision-making roles. The main institutional actors, including the UN Security Council, have now realized the importance of opening doors and opportunities to women in conflict prevention and resolution.  They have committed to positive change, and we must hold them to this promise.

The global political and economic landscape continues to change rapidly and dramatically. Conflicts, financial and economic crises, food insecurity and climate change, as well as pandemics like Ebola, have intensified vulnerability, with specific impacts on women and girls.

Responding to this new landscape, and creating a safe and equal world for generations to come, is the most urgent challenge of this century.

The Beijng+20 process and the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda provide an historic opportunity to position gender equality at the centre of the global agenda. This is an important end in itself and an essential means to achieve sustainable development and lasting peace.

The future we want demands a bold and transformative approach to address the structural barriers to gender equality.  Without this equality, the work for human rights, lasting peace, and sustainable development is futile and incomplete.

We must seize every opportunity, at all levels, to realize women’s and girls’ human rights and full and equal participation in society.

This is the century of the woman. In a time of uncertainty, what a truly inspiring challenge and promise for the future that is.

Thank you.

Statements on 11 September 2014