Shaping the international agenda: raising women’s voices in intergovernmental fora

As delivered

Keynote Address by Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly at UN-Women, United Nations Office at Geneva and International Gender Champions (IGC) panel launch of the joint publication “Shaping the international agenda: raising women’s voices in intergovernmental fora”

2 May 2017



Gender publication launchAmbassador Lana Nusseibeh, President of UN-Women’s Executive Board

UN-Women Deputy Executive Director Ms. Lakshmi Puri


Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is an honor to address this launch of the “Shaping the international agenda: raising women’s voices in intergovernmental forums” publication.

In many ways, this publication brings into sharp relief a phenomenon that is all too familiar here at the United Nations – that women continue to be systematically underrepresented in intergovernmental fora.

Since 1990, the United Nations has sought to remedy this situation by setting targets for women in leadership positions, including to achieve 30 percent of women in leadership positions by 1995, and to secure equal representation by 2000.

However, each of these targets has failed to be met.

To this day, there has never been a woman Secretary-General to the United Nations, and over the 71 years that the UN has existed, there has only ever been three women serve as President of the General Assembly, two women serve as President of ECOSOC, and less than 10 percent of the General Assembly Main Committees chaired by women.

These figures are mirrored by the underrepresentation of women on national delegations to the United Nations.

Indeed, last September, during the General Debate of the 71st Session of the General Assembly, less than 10 percent of national statements were delivered by women.

The gender imbalances that we see in intergovernmental fora, of course reflect systematic inequalities at national levels, and whereby women on average represent only 17 percent of Ministerial-level appointments, and make up 23 percent of national parliaments.

Further, where women have succeeded in ascending to leadership roles, it has often been in social and cultural fields, while men have continued to dominate leadership positions in finance, economic, security, science, and other portfolios.

In recent times, the importance of women’s full, effective and equal participation in public life, decision-making, and leadership positions has been increasingly recognized across the world, including in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, it has also become equally clear that without specific strategies to redress historical imbalances, that we will not succeed in achieving gender balance at the United Nations, nor gender equality across our world.

If we are serious therefore about our commitment to raising women’s voices in intergovernmental fora, we – as Member States – must pursue a number of specific and complementary actions to ensure that women are empowered, and are being selected, to take on these roles.


To this end, we must consider gender balance in determining the composition of our delegations to the United Nations, and provide tailored training, capacity-building, and financial support to help facilitate women’s participation in intergovernmental meetings.

We must promote and protect women and girls’ equal rights before the law and within our societies.


We must undertake awareness-raising efforts to promote the importance of gender equality without our societies, and which can help to overcome social barriers that constrain choices for women and girls, including narrow gender stereotypes, societal expectations, and discriminatory practices.


We must introduce specific policies to encourage women’s political participation at national and sub-national levels, including through comprehensive gender equality strategies that address broad-ranging measures such as quotas, leadership training, and mentorship programs.


We must reform our political and workplace cultures to help overcome entrenched biases, including by introducing workplace protections, ensuring equal pay for equal work, providing adequate family leave, and ensuring women have clear paths to senior decision-making roles.


We must expand opportunities in education and employment for women, including in economics, finance, math, innovation, science, technology, and other areas from which they have been traditionally marginalized.


We must collect and use disaggregated data to track and report on progress, and so that decision-makers can make targeted, evidence-based decisions to improve women’s participation rates.


And we must implement urgently, effectively and at scale, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


The 2030 Agenda not only sets us the goal of achieving gender equality within 14 years, it includes a specific target on ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.


It is critical therefore to our efforts to achieve the full realization of human rights for all women and girls, that we implement the Sustainable Development Goals, and pursue the empowerment of women and girls as a key cross-cutting priority necessary to achieving all 17 SDGs.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As President of the General Assembly and a HeForShe champion, I am committed to stepping up and speaking out to help advance gender equality.

To this end, just yesterday, I announced my commitment to become an International Gender Champion, and made two concrete pledges in this regard:

Firstly, to strive to achieve gender parity within my own Office, including at senior management levels; and

Secondly, to strive to ensure that at least 25 percent of co-chairs and co-facilitators appointed to General Assembly negotiations processes during the 71st Session, are women, despite the fact that only 18 percent of Permanent Representatives to the UN are women.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

When the United Nations was established 71 years ago the founding Charter began with an affirmation of the equal rights of women and men.

However, this goal for gender equality has never been achieved here at the United Nations.

We must therefore all commit to righting this record, and to taking the hard but necessary decisions at the national-level to nurture a pipeline of women’s talent to take on intergovernmental roles, to improve women’s participation at the international level, and to achieve gender equality across our world.

I thank you.

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