5 June 2020

Deputy Secretary-General, at High-Level Meeting on Women Leaders Fighting COVID‑19, Urges Action to Leverage Power of Female Front‑line Workers, Decision Makers

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the virtual high-level meeting “The Impact Women Leaders Are Having in the Fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic”, in New York today:

I am delighted to join such a powerful group of women this morning.  Women who are leading our response to COVID-19 across different fields.  Every time I look at the “Rise for All” video, it resonates in a different way.

As our lives have shifted online, one advantage has been in the way we are able to engage with each other despite distance, and to bring together our collective expertise and experience to go a step further.

This pandemic is an unprecedented wake-up call, laying bare deep inequalities and exposing precisely the failures that are addressed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  As the Secretary-General has said, had we been further along in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, we would not be facing the scale of development emergency we are today for the most vulnerable.

This pandemic has been with us for just over six months now.  In that time, it has caused an unprecedented health, humanitarian and economic crisis.  It is straining health and care systems, widening socioeconomic divides and creating deep political and social insecurity.  What we didn’t realize at the time was that the side effects of the prescriptions we took for the health crisis would also impact in an unprecedented way our social and economic recovery.  I hope this discussion today talks about challenge but also pathways we have taken up.

Sadly, these dynamics are disproportionately impacting women and girls.  Gender-based violence is increasing — at home and online – impacting both women and children.  Access to sexual and reproductive health services is being compromised.  Women’s unpaid care burden is rising.  And millions of girls are out of school with the risk that many may not return.

Our shared global agenda remains the clearest path to mitigate, respond and recover from the current crisis.

At the same time, perhaps more clearly than ever, we see women on the front lines of the response, as Heads of State and Government, health and care workers, and community leaders and mobilizers.  We need to protect them and listen to them.

Local women’s organizations and women’s rights activists are providing essential services for those often left behind, as well as information, advocacy and oversight to help ensure that the most marginalized are not further excluded.

We are going to hear today from many women leaders that are showing through their example how women’s leadership and participation brings more effective, inclusive and fair policies, plans and budgets.  And yet, the number of women leaders remains dismally low across the board – in COVID-19 task forces and in decision-making bodies steering our crisis response.

Women’s under-representation in the health sector and decision-making positions is especially concerning:  while women make up 70 per cent of health sector workers, less than 20 per cent of the world’s health ministers are women, and they only hold 25 per cent of senior roles in health institutions.  Only 7 per cent of Heads of State and 6 per cent of Heads of Government are women.  Similarly, women represent only 25 per cent of national legislators and 35 per cent of local counsellors — still far short of gender balance.

Now is the time to leverage the visibility on women’s leadership and push for change, including through quotas and temporary special measures.  This will achieve not only greater gender balance and representation, but greater credibility and delivery in all our institutions.

In our response to COVID-19 we must ensure that women are in decision-making roles, take leadership positions and participate in public life.

As the United Nations, we are leading efforts to safeguard the gains made of gender equality and push for transformative change.  We have 50 per cent women in the leadership of the United Nations today and they are at the forefront of our COVID-19 response.  We have women leading in the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Hannah Tetteh at the African Union and many more.  And these women are speaking out.  Whether it’s Natalia Kanem speaking out about the levels of violence against women and the need for continued access to health services for women, or Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka taking Generation Equality online so that we can continue in this moment to celebrate gains and strengthen our efforts for gender equality.  Women leaders in the United Nations are at the forefront of our efforts.

In the first weeks of April, the Secretary-General issued a call for peace in the home as levels of violence against women and girls escalated alongside the pandemic.

Our United Nations agencies are working with Member States to ensure that domestic violence prevention and response are part of national COVID-19 plans, that shelters are declared essential services, and that services for survivors can be shifted online.  The United Nations is shifting resources to civil society organizations on the front line of the COVID-19 response, supporting women’s organizations to deliver public health messaging in communities, working with Governments to inform gender-responsive stimulus packages, and ensuring that vital sexual and reproductive health services remain accessible to women.

COVID-19 is exposing how inequalities of all types have hollowed out our societies, institutions and systems, making them more vulnerable to health, climate, economic and human security threats.

Women’s leadership and participation is essential to overcome this inequality and to create the strong and functioning socioeconomic systems we will need to address the challenges of today and tomorrow.

There has never been a greater opportunity to seize the intergenerational opportunity.  To bring together in dialogue women leaders.

This is the reason why I have initiated “Women Rise for All” — a platform to shine a light on and recognize women’s extraordinary front-line leadership that is winning against COVID-19.  Across the globe, as women leaders, we are taking action to overcome the pandemic and build back better.  Our aim is clear:  societies and economies that are more resilient, climate‑just and gender‑equal.

Let’s help women leaders rise for all.

For information media. Not an official record.