08 March 2017

Remarks at commemoration of International Women’s Day

António Guterres

Today, on International Women’s Day, we have thousands of meetings like this one – meetings that clearly proclaim the need for gender equality. 

And in our world, all UN organizations and most of the governments everywhere, most of the institutions everywhere, have adopted gender equality as a policy with programmes to implement that policy and with an enormous amount of public interventions in which most women and men proclaim that commitment to gender equality. 

But yet we are still far from achieving this goal. And yet many people, even when they say they are in favor of gender equality, have a lot of difficulties in recognizing the obstacles that make it difficult to have gender equality, and to strongly commit to remove those obstacles. 

The truth is that north and south, east and west – and I’m not speaking about any society, culture or country in particular – everywhere, we still have a male-dominated culture. 

And I have to say that I felt it, first of all, when I was Prime Minister in my country. One of the most difficult things that I had to face was how to convince the Government, the Parliament, the police forces, the magistrates, and the society in general that we have a serious problem of family violence and that we have to work together in a committed way to make sure that we would be able to solve that problem. There was a kind of a conspiracy in the whole of society to hide the family violence that existed in my country, as it exists everywhere in the world. 

And this predominant male culture I also felt in my work as High Commissioner for Refugees, when I had to deal with some of the most dramatic violations of women’s rights. From genital mutilation to child marriage to sexual and gender-based violence in all forms, in all situations, and of course my organization and the civil society organizations working with me and governments, they all had programmes against it and we would all tick the boxes of the different actions that were necessary to be done, but there was never the strong, full commitment that was necessary to fully eradicate those terrible violations of women’s rights that are human rights. 

And I have to say that we need to have all of these policies of gender equality, we need to have all these policies of protection of women in vulnerable situations, but the key, as it was referred in the last intervention, the key is our strong commitment to women and girls’ empowerment in our societies.

And we need to say clearly that governments are better when there is gender equality in the formation of governments. We need to say that Parliaments are better when there is gender equality in the formation of Parliaments. That companies have better management when there is gender equality in their boards. That societies are better when there is full equality in girls’ access to education and in women and girls’ access to the labor markets, with equal work and equal pay and equal participation in the different institutions of the civil and political society. 

But gender empowerment fills a lot of obstacles. We have in the UN, today, a strong commitment to gender parity at all levels, and I have started it with my own appointments to the higher-ranking positions in UN. 

But there is still a lot of resistance to gender parities in different levels, in different societies. And I would recall a true story of a dialogue between two men who were discussing in my party 20 years ago whether or not to introduce quotas in the party boards. And one was saying, “well, I’m totally in favor of women’s participation in the board with one condition: that they are competent for that.” And the other responded, “look, we will only have full equality between men and women when incompetent women will have access to our board because we have a lot of incompetent men on our board.” 

Now, this is just a joke. We do not want incompetent women as we do not want incompetent men; what we want is competent women and competent men to have the same rights and the same opportunities to be able to play the same kind of roles in our societies. 

And when one looks at the three pillars of the UN: peace and security, it is better to prevent conflict when we have women fully empowered in societies, and it is better to solve conflicts when women fully participate in conflict resolution. 

Sustainable and inclusive development – how can the world afford to leave 50 per cent of the world’s population from fully participating in our development? The richness, the welfare, the prosperity of countries depend on the full integration of women in the development process. 

And human rights – I have just spoken about some of the worst violations of women’s rights, but women’s rights are human rights, and we must be totally committed to make sure that human rights at all levels are fully respected. 

It is for me very gratifying to be here in Kenya on this day and, to see your commitment to gender equality because that commitment is absolutely crucial in all order to remove that obstacle that is still there around the world of a male chauvinist culture that still prevails and needs to be, once and for all, defeated for gender equality to finally win. 

Thank you very much.