Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks to the Youth Forum of the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York today:
First, it is absolutely wonderful to see all of you that are here and, as I walked into the United Nations building, all those who are still trying to get in. I am just wishing that every [one] of our conference halls looked like this more days of the week than not.
There are many things I would like to say, but I would just like to say two words: thank you. It is so important that you are here. Thank you for bringing your enthusiasm and energy to the United Nations because these days we certainly need that good energy. The United Nations does need you. Our world needs you. And now more than ever.
And here you are to “represent”. And I hope you take that word really seriously — “represent”. Because, at one time, a young man from [the United Republic of] Tanzania once said to me: “So, you have now finished speaking about the issues and the peoples that you represent, but how representative are you really of those you say you represent?” You are only as good as what you take out of the whole back to them, so that you can get that full cycle of input into what you come to say here.
Today you represent something really historic — the largest youth population that our world has ever seen. Today, 1.8 billion young people are between the ages of 10 and 24. Every one of them has hopes. Every one of them has aspirations. Every one of them has their own unique dream.
I may have a fancy job that is called the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, but I have to tell you, my job description is simple. It’s about a world that I want to build, where every girl and boy has the tools, the structures and the support to make their dreams a reality. In other words, as my daughters might say, I’ve got your back. And I have four daughters and two sons.
We live in a world that is out of balance. Eight people hold the same wealth as half of humanity. All of them are men, by the way. Joblessness — particularly for young people — is on the rise. In many parts of the world, it is completely off the charts, and when you see data that just aggregate a figure, look behind the data to the people, the faces and where they are.
Mistrust and insecurity are growing. People are feeling left out of the decision-making that affects their lives. We often talk about the youth and their future, but your future is now. No one faces these stark imbalances more than the world’s women and girls. No one is forced to confront higher obstacles to opportunity than the women and girls of our world today.
Gender-based discrimination, marginalization, violence and other human rights abuses, unequal access to education to health care — these are basic rights and also opportunities for leadership and participation. This list goes on and on.
The barriers are so high that it would take 170 years to achieve economic equality between women and men. One hundred and seventy years. I’m sorry, but I do not accept a world that says equality is not good enough for you or me or our daughters. But, maybe, just maybe, it might be okay for our great-great-great-great grandchildren. Well, I am just about to become a grandmother and I am really looking forward to the granddaughter we are about to have.
I’m not waiting. I know you’re not waiting. When I was your age, I was never waiting. I was always told to take it easy or time will come and I was always thinking my time is now. So, our world can’t wait.
Building a better world won’t happen on its own. The good news is that we do have a plan and that plan took four years to bring to fruition. It’s called the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] and it has 17 Sustainable Development Goals — global goals, “SDGs”. Goal 5 is to achieve gender equality in every corner of our globe. And that really means leaving no one behind. Take some time to really look around you and identify who are those “no ones”, because often they get lost in the statistics. So, who is a “no one” when we say “leave ‘no one’ behind”?
But, today the fact is that we won’t meet any of the Goals without the full participation of the world’s women and girls. It is simple arithmetic: we are assets and will never attain 100 per cent of our goals by excluding 50 per cent of our assets, our population. It is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. For example, every year of secondary schooling a girl receives boosts her earning power by as much as 25 per cent. To put it another way, investing in women and girls pays. It pays for families. It pays for communities. It pays for societies at large. It pays for economies. But, most important of all, it pays for girls and women.
I look forward to working with each and every one of you to ensure the political and economic empowerment of women and girls; to protect human rights — everyone’s human rights. We have, since Beijing, said women’s rights are human rights. We have to do more than lip service to stamp out violence in any form, whether it is physical or mental, and to work in partnership with young men and boys for equality. It will take everyone and it will take them everywhere. Remember, our Agenda won’t be realized in New York or in Geneva or in London. It will happen in our communities back home.
So, let’s focus on getting things done, taking those ambitions into real practicality, keeping in mind one of my favourite Nigerian proverbs: “Fine words do not produce food.” Rhetoric has its place, but implementation matters; practical action.
I am counting on you to be the change agents and torchbearers that we so desperately need. I know that you are well on your way. When I look out today, I do see the future. But, I see it now. The actions that you can take as you walk out of these doors. It’s a future of equality, a future of justice, a future of dignity for women and girls and for all humanity. Let’s make that happen.