Opening of the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women

As delivered

Statement by H.E. Peter Thomson, President of the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly, at the Opening of the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women


13 March 2017


Distinguished Chair,

President of ECOSOC,

Secretary General,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

When the United Nations was established 71 years ago, our founding Charter began with an unequivocal affirmation of gender equality. ‘We the peoples of the United Nations,’ it read, ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women…’ Since those post-war days, great strides have been made towards the realization of the rights of women and girls. But let’s be honest with ourselves, progress has been slow and uneven; and in spite of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, gender equality is still a goal, not yet a reality.

As some of you know, all of my grandchildren are girls. As they grow toward adulthood, I cannot abide the thought that they will not enjoy full and equal rights with their male peers.  I am deeply committed to doing all I can to ensure that this will not be so.

Where do I turn to satisfy myself that the achievement of gender equality is not far away? Where do I go to find faith and be assured that my granddaughters will not live in a world still lacking the basic human right of equality between men and women.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, 

I turn to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  I turn to the Agenda because it is universal, adopted as it was by all 193 Member States of the United Nations, adopted by world leaders, with specific targets and time frames.

The preamble of the Agenda, its introduction, its transformational vision, and its shared principles and commitments are all suffused with the logic of gender equality.

If you have not read it for a while I urge you to return to paragraph 20 of the Agenda. Therein you will find the memorable declaration that achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible, if half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities. Therein you will find our consensus that the systematic mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Agenda is crucial.

Next in my search, I turn to Sustainable Development Goal 5, specifically committing us all to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. I read SDG5’s targets and my faith in progress is reinforced. I see the ending of all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere.

I see the day when all forms of violence against women and girls are eliminated; when women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership are ensured.

Distinguished Delegates,

And when I reflect on the process that brought the historic 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda into being, I find myself deeply grateful to the Commission on the Status of Women. For it was this Commission that called for the 2030 Agenda to take a ‘transformative and comprehensive approach’ to gender equality, through a stand-alone goal and the integration of gender equality targets and indicators across the Agenda’s framework.

And the Commission has not rested on its laurels, consistently pushing on for key gender equality actions in our SDG implementation efforts. The Commission’s current emphasis on women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work is both prescient and vitally necessary to the push for women’s empowerment.

SDG implementation activities across the globe are already bringing together diverse partners, in strategic collaborations, using innovation and technology to drive social and economic change.

We live in a time of exponential technological change. The scale and pace of this change is such that our social and economic adjustments will increasingly be playing catch-up. Looking through the lens of gender equality, it is critical that women are able to freely access technology, to help shape its development, and to benefit from its use. These exponential times present us with leapfrog opportunities for women’s empowerment.

Innovation and technology could well prove to be the key to unlocking the $28 trillion it is estimated could be added to global annual GDP if women and men were to be treated equally in the world of work.

Technology can change the way education is delivered, thereby allowing girls living in rural, remote, or insecure areas, to develop the skills they need for future work.

Technology can expand women’s access to the formal economy and markets, to micro-credit and loans, and to legal, financial and banking institutions, thereby liberating women’s entrepreneurship and promoting financial independence.

Technology can facilitate women’s employment by relieving the burden of low-productivity activities, and enabling flexible work conditions.

It can help to monitor and enforce workplace and legal protections, including the provision of safe working environments, and ensuring equal pay for equal work.

And technology can help to eliminate the global shame of violence against women. It can facilitate access to safe-houses for victims of violence, promote reliable and secure reporting and capture forensic evidence to ensure justice is served.


Ladies and gentlemen,

As SDG implementation efforts push on through the next 14 years, with the gender equality lens firmly in place, I am confident that both gender equality and sustainable development will be achieved. A good part of that confidence lies in the transformational nature of the technology and innovation that is fast changing our world.

The tools and ways of life of the past will not be those of humanity’s sustainable future. Technological innovation and the river of human progress, can be blocked here and there with dams of political and social convenience. But as long as the human spirit flourishes, as long as we have faith in progress and justice for all, the river will flow on, over all those dams and passing diversions, to a time of greater equity; to a time, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, when lack of gender equality will be rightly seen as an absurdity.

I thank you.

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