Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the opening session of the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York today:
I would like to share three simple messages with you today. My first and most important message is one of gratitude: a deep and heartfelt thank you. I thank you and salute you for raising your voices for women’s equality and dignity around the world.
Every day, you are on the frontlines for fairness — for a more just and decent world. I have seen the difference you make in every corner of our globe. You are an inspiration. As you champion equality, you make the world better for all. I thank you very much.
My second message is clear: in a male dominated world, the empowerment of women must be a key priority. Women already have what it takes to succeed. Empowerment is about breaking structural barriers.
Men still dominate, even in countries that consider themselves as progressive. Male chauvinism blocks women — and that hurts everyone. We are all better off when we open doors of opportunity for women and girls: in classrooms and boardrooms, in military ranks and at peace talks, in all aspects of productive life.
This is vital to address a historic injustice that continues today. But it is also about effectiveness.
Institutions, companies, Governments and organizations — including our own — those in which gender equality reflect the people they serve get better results by every measure. They are the future. If countries address the gender gap at work, women can generate enough funds to underpin success across the 2030 Agenda which was approved by all leaders at the United Nations in 2015.
One study found that women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth over the next decade. Women and girls with better reproductive health and education have also better chances in life. They earn higher salaries. They invest more in the health of their children. Investments now pay dividends for generations.
Empowerment is also the best way to prevent protection challenges that arise from violent extremism, human rights violations, xenophobia and other threats. We need you more than ever before.
Globally, women are suffering new assaults on their safety and dignity. Extremists have built their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls and the denial of their rights. Sexual violence, forced marriage, human trafficking and virtual enslavement — these are weapons of physical and psychological warfare in today’s world.
Some Governments are enacting laws that curtail women’s freedoms. Others are rolling back legal protections against domestic violence. Discrimination against women sounds a loud alarm that our common values are under threat. Women’s rights are human rights — and attacks on women are attacks on all of us. This is why we have to respond together.
For the 830 women at risk of dying each day from causes related to childbirth. For the 225 million women who lack access to modern contraceptives. For the 15 million girls forced to marry each year. For the 130 million women and girls who have suffered genital mutilation. For the women domestic workers who globally do two and a half times as much unpaid work as men. And for the nearly 1 billion women who will enter the global economy in the next decade. Empowerment will unleash the potential of all these women and girls — and they will lead us to a new future.
This brings me to my third message: The United Nations and I will personally support you every step of the way.
It is true, I have to confess, I am a man, but we need all men to stand up for women’s empowerment. Our world needs more women leaders. And our world needs more men standing up for gender equality.
Today, I am happy to announce that I am joining the International Gender Champions. I encourage other senior leaders to be part of this campaign for equality.
We have had goals in the past — sometimes ambitious goals — and they have led to some improvement, but not enough. The outstanding women in my cabinet are at the vanguard women’s leadership at the United Nations. We need a cultural shift — in the world and our United Nations.
Women everywhere should be recognized as equal and promoted on that basis. We need more than goals; we need action, targets and benchmarks to measure what we do. But for the UN, gender equality is not only a matter of staffing. It relates to everything we do.
And allow me to tell one story that I lived in my own party 20 years ago when we were fighting for quotas in our own party board and I remember the dialog between two of my colleagues at that time on the usual argument about gender equality. One was saying to [the] other “I have nothing against women as members of our board, provided that they are competent.” And the other wisely answered “Look, there will only be equality on our board when incompetent women will also be members because we have a lot of incompetent men there.”
That does not mean that I am here to promote incompetent women here at the UN, what we need is to have both competent women and competent men with equal opportunities in the Organization.
We have announced ambitious new steps to help end sexual exploitation and abuse committed under the UN flag. A major part of the solution is to deploy more women in uniform — and more women leaders in our Organization. Again — this is not just about equality; it is about results.
When women meaningfully participate in peace processes, the chance of sustainable peace goes up by 35 per cent over 15 years. With peacekeeping, I am asking the Member States to move us beyond the current level, where women make up just 3 per cent of our peacekeepers. When we deploy more women, our credibility goes up. Our protection reaches further. Our community relations thrive.
That is why I intend to draw more on the immense talents of women to foster peace and security in our world. We stand for a powerful truth: women’s equality works for the world.
I have one last request to all of you. I ask you to hold us to our promises. Do not let us in the UN off the hook. Keep our feet on the fire. Keep pushing. Keep inspiring. Keep making a difference.
I thank you because we need you. You can count on me and you can count on the UN.