Nairobi, Kenya

16 August 2019

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at African Women Leaders Network Intergenerational Retreat [as delivered]

Your Excellency Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, Your Excellency Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Your Excellency Ms. Catherine Samba-Panza, Your Excellency Ms. Joyce Banda, Your Excellency Ms. Ameenah Gurib Fakim, Distinguished Guests, Young Women Leaders, Sisters,
 
I would like to extend my thanks to the Government of Kenya, for their hospitality and to President Kenyatta and African Women Leaders Network Patron, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for the invitation to this timely intergenerational retreat, as well as to all partners and donors who made this retreat possible.
 
Let me start by recognizing the many long-serving women leaders present in this room for their contributions to breaking the glass ceiling for African women.
 
I would also like to recognize the young women leaders who are here today for their vision and determination and for claiming their space to help shape our collective future.
 
This African Women Leaders Network retreat shows that we can transcend age differences and connect as women, particularly as African women, to collectively address the global challenges that affect us all – be it gender inequality, sustainable development, violence or climate justice.
 
There is need for intergenerational dialogues, such as this one, to reaffirm our shared values, including the need to leave no one behind, to promote respect for diversity, tolerance and violence-free societies, and to nurture a pro- and pan-African cultural heritage and identity. I am encouraged to see young people strategically mobilizing in pursuit of these objectives, including by questioning established structures, organizing in new ways, and harnessing the benefits of technology. And I am convinced that we can learn a lot from each other – and benefit from our collective leadership and experiences
 
Next month, world leaders and I hope President Kenyatta will be there with us, will gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York for a series of summits on the climate emergency, on Universal Health Care, the first stock-taking of where we are on the Sustainable Development Goals but also Financing for Development and for the Small Island States.
 
Next year brings further opportunities to advance this work, We will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, and the we also have the 5th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security.

Our aim is to generate greater urgency, ambition and commitment.  Indeed, even with all of these fine frameworks that we talk about and far-reaching agreements that we have had, not a single country can claim to have reached gender equality. But, let me just put on record that in Africa we’ve done the best there is in our cabinets, 50/50 and putting women on them and more so than developed countries, so let’s take credit where it is due [Applause].
 
But the pace is too slow for change, currently it will take us 50 years to achieve gender parity, I mean today, we take the leadership of African Union Commission because it is the first  Commission that has 50/50 parity, in the UN, we can  proudly say that we achieved this last year but this is the way it needs to go for everyone, this will take us 50 years in the current space but for political participation, we have more than a 100 years for true pay equality, and more than two centuries to have gender equality as a whole.
 
I know you agree with me that we simply cannot wait that long.  We cannot tell young people today that parity will arrive only for their great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren!
 
I think President Kenyatta when you were 20, 21,22 [years], everything needed to happen tomorrow, so we say this at the UN, just keep that pressure up and be a movement for change
 
Africa has set a trend in recent years, but the continent is not on track to attain the goals set out in Africa’s Agenda 2063: women occupying 50 per cent of elected offices at state, regional and local bodies, and 50 per cent of managerial positions by and large still in the private sector as well.
 
Moreover, this is not only a question of upholding basic human rights and deriving the benefits of equality.  Inaction has severe consequences, and young women will continue to bear the brunt. Research shows that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa alone $95 billion each year.
 
Gender inequality is also costing Africa sustainable peace. From northern Nigeria to Sudan, women, including young women, take on visible and critical roles to prevent conflict and to advocate for sustainable peace. But when negotiations formalize, or transitions begin, too often women are simply pushed out of the picture, their voices stifled, and their contributions diminished.
 
That cannot be allowed to be continue and perhaps we can make Sudan the first example where women were actually challenging the status quo, make the changes, and decision-making roles are women. The new agreement that will be signed tomorrow, I hope the leaders we have in Africa are aligned with the new leadership we have in Sudan, that their success for sustainable peace will be having women at the center of that table
 
We also know that violence against women and girls, which cuts across all spheres of our societies, is a major obstacle to the fulfilment of women’s and girls’ human rights and to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.
So we are really pleased to see the Spotlight Initiative by the European Union and the United Nations take roots in Africa where we will be leaders in showing that we can bring to zero and end to gender-based violence
 
I have had many memorable encounters with young people who have opened up about their current reality and aspirations for the future. We need to do far more such listening, and then act on what young people have requested time and again: to be heard, to be respected, to be financially supported and to be meaningfully included as partners in decision-making processes.  I think young people today are quite tired of hearing that they are the leaders of tomorrow when in fact, they start at leadership role today, they are ready to step up today.
 
It is an important step forward that we have youth envoys – young women -- at the African Union and the United Nations to champion and amplify the aspirations of youth, globally and in Africa.  In fact, our Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked the Youth Envoy to be disruptive, so permission to be disruptive young people, not to break the law, but be disruptive
 
Let me say here that it is important we do not make the same mistakes as the man as did when they left us behind. We must not leave them behind. If we are to soar to great heights, every country, and when you talk about soaring, everyone has to remember that a bird fly only with two wings.
 
It is important that today is our day as we try to find our place, that gap exist but there is partnership in the gender, often we talk of gender parity and we talk about gender inequality and it affects many many boys as much as it does girls and I think we have to remember as humanity, we all want a place were our rights are respected
 
I commend the leadership of the AU Youth Envoy, Ms. Aya Chebbi, on the “1 Million by 2021 Initiative” that was launched in April this year, which aims to reach African youth with opportunities and interventions in the key areas of employment, entrepreneurship, education and engagement.
 
I understand the need to ensure that young women and girls have access to a quality education, skills and other resources, which can help them to claim their rights, but we need to put in place the economic empowerment to have that happen.
 
The initiatives and flagships that we pick up in the AWLN, I believe that the national chapters are going to be where it will happen. Here we advocate and come together to reinforce the efforts that we need to make, that those efforts can not bear fruits if they happen at country level and not at the local level, so I am happy to see some of the leaders of national chapters with us here today
 
We have also launched our Youth Strategy -- “Youth 2030” -- to facilitate meaningful participation of youth in all levels of development, while opening new routes for engagement with the UN System in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
 
I would like to acknowledge again the tireless efforts we have had at the AU though many of visits on Women peace and security on the field, to acknowledged that context matters, and very often, in silencing the gun, that objective as noble as it may be, today, tomorrow and the day after,  our women are bearing the brunt living in many of those places of crisis and conflicts
 
Friends,
 
I want to close with the wise words of the great African-American writer, Toni Morrison, who passed away earlier this month.
 
“When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. [And] If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
 
Let us all embody that spirit and uphold that responsibility, to each other today, and to future generations.
 
Thank you.