International Women’s Day 2017

Statement by H.E. Peter Thomson, President of the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly, at the International Women’s Day 2017 “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” event

8 March 2017


H.E. Mr. Bjarni Benediktsson, Prime Minister of Iceland,

Deputy Secretary-General,

Executive Director, UN Women,


Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and gentleman,


It is an honor to be here today to mark the Observance of International Women’s Day and I thank UN Women for organizing this event.


When Suffragettes took to the streets over 100 years ago to demand equality for women, it was their actions that led to the first observance of International Women’s Day.

Standing here today, it is difficult to accept that over a century later, women and their allies still have to march in the streets to demand recognition of women’s fundamental human rights.

Therefore, as we meet today to celebrate the positive developments that have taken place over the years in the promotion and protection of women and girls’ human rights, let us pause to recognize that this progress has often been slow, fragile and uneven.

Let us also remind ourselves that if we are to achieve a future in which all women and men enjoy equal rights, empowerment, and opportunity, then we must commit to decisive action to overcome the entrenched obstacles still preventing progress.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” brings focused attention to a critical driver of gender equality – women’s economic empowerment.

While in recent years the gender gap in labor force participation has narrowed across the globe, at the current rate of progress the World Economic Forum estimates it will take 170 years to close the economic gender gap.

If we are serious about achieving a ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’, it is clear we must take specific action now to accelerate the realization of gender equality.

And we must ensure that no one is left behind, in other words that these efforts must take place within all nations, at all levels.

As a starting point, it is time for action on promoting and protecting women’s and girls’ equal rights before the law, within societies, and inside all workplaces. This includes by providing workplace protections and ensuring equal pay for equal work.

We must challenge narrow gender stereotypes, societal expectations, and chauvinistic attitudes that constrain choices for women and girls.

We must expand opportunities in education, employment and the formal economy, including by pursuing strategies to increase women’s participation in innovation, science, technology, and other emerging industries from which they have been traditionally marginalized.

Such efforts are particularly important as we seek to respond to the changing world of work, where technological advancements, demographic shifts, and globalization are fundamentally altering the jobs and job requirements of the future.

We must introduce policies within our workplaces to overcome entrenched male-bias and address the under-representation of women at senior levels.

This includes by stamping out negative workplace cultures, providing adequate family leave, and ensuring that women have clear paths to elevate them into senior decision-making roles.

We must collect, analyze and use disaggregated statistical information so that policy-makers are able to make targeted, evidence-based decisions to drive, monitor, evaluate and strengthen women’s workplace participation rates.

And, most importantly, we must implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 Agenda, and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals it contains, are critical tools for the realization of human rights of all women and girls.

The 2030 Agenda not only sets the goal of achieving gender equality within the next 14 years, SDG5, but it also recognizes that to achieve each of the 17 SDGs, we must pursue the empowerment of women and girls as a key cross-cutting priority.

We must therefore look to implement the SDGs urgently, effectively and at scale, and to ensure that women and women’s groups are key partners in shaping our implementation plans, so that that the particular needs of women and girls are addressed.

The United Nations has a critical role to play in driving global momentum to implement the 2030 Agenda and thereby achieve gender equality.

This includes through leading by example and making the shift towards achieving a gender equal organization.

With statistics showing that only three women have served as President of the General Assembly over the past 71 Sessions, that only two women have served as President of ECOSOC, and that as recently as last year’s UN General Debate, only 18 of 197 national statements were delivered by women, we must take a good look at ourselves and take the necessary steps to promote women into leadership positions.

The Secretary-General’s ground-breaking institutional reform effort to achieve gender parity throughout the organization is vital to reversing this historic imbalance.

I call on all delegations to support the Secretary-General in his work, to help him embed the reforms into the organizational culture, and to ensure that a pipeline of women’s talent is nurtured within the United Nations system.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I committed to becoming a “He-for-She” advocate, I recognized this was more than a catchy title. Rather, it was a public undertaking to take action in my day-to-day life to create a more gender equal world.

I am committed to this cause, and to doing all that I can to promote gender quality – particularly as we look at ways to implement game-changing initiatives to achieve the SDGs.

As part of my commitment to driving a universal push to implement all 17 SDGs during the 71st Session of the General Assembly, over the coming months I will be convening a series of SDG Action Events on climate change, SDG financing, innovation, and education.

During each of these events special focus will be placed on advancing gender equality and leaving no one behind.

I encourage everyone here today to participate in these events, and to ensure that intersectional and cross-cutting issues relating to woman’s rights are addressed in discussions. Details on the SDG Action Events can be found on the Office of the President of the General Assembly’s website.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing, I want to pay tribute to all the women, women’s groups, and women’s human rights defenders from around the world who through their daily acts of courage and commitment stand up for the rights of women and girls.

I want to thank you for your determined pursuit of equity, to not only improve the lives of all women and girls, but in turn to achieve a more just and peaceful world for us all.

I thank you.

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