UN Headquarters

01 October 2020

Remarks to the High-Level Meeting on the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women

António Guterres

Monsieur le Président,
Mesdames et Messieurs les Ministres,
Chers collègues,

À vous tous, bonjour et bonsoir.

C'est un plaisir de m'adresser à vous à l'occasion du 25ème anniversaire de la quatrième Conférence mondiale sur les femmes.

La Conférence de Beijing a été un moment charnière ; un point de repère ; un tournant.

Pour beaucoup d'entre nous, ce fut un temps de réflexion profonde.

La vision audacieuse et l’agenda de transformation de la Conférence de Beijing ont tout d’abord clairement montré que les droits des femmes sont au cœur de l'égalité et de la justice partout dans le monde; mais aussi que ces droits sont refusés, entravés et ignorés – partout.

C'était un signal d’alarme.

Since then, we have made some important gains. Maternal mortality is down by nearly 40 percent since 1995. More girls are in school than ever before in history.

But we have not fulfilled the ambitious vision of the Beijing Declaration. 

One woman in three still experiences some form of violence in her lifetime.

Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18.

In some parts of the world, levels of femicide - the killing of women – could be likened to a war zone. In 2017, an average of 137 women around the world were killed by a member of their own family every day.

Women are still frequently excluded from peace negotiations, climate talks, and decision-making roles of all kinds.

Worldwide, on average, women have just 75 percent of the legal rights of men.

The World Bank estimates that it could take 150 years to achieve gender parity in lifetime earned income.

And that closing that gap would generate $172 trillion in human capital wealth. That is what we are losing.


COVID-19 has emphasized and exploited the continued denial of women’s rights.

Women and girls are bearing the brunt of the massive social and economic impact of the pandemic.  

Twenty-five years after Beijing, we are facing a women-led recession as women employed in the informal economy are first to lose their jobs. 
Women nurses and carers are on the frontlines of the response to the pandemic, but men still occupy 70 percent of leadership roles in healthcare.

And women are suffering a shadow pandemic of gender-based violence during COVID-19, together with an increase in abusive and repressive practices including early marriage and the denial of sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Unless we act now, COVID-19 could wipe out a generation of fragile progress towards gender equality.


The systems and structures of our world, based on millennia of male domination, are holding women back in all areas, with serious consequences for everyone.

COVID-19 demonstrates that we urgently need a strong push to meet the unfulfilled promise of Beijing.

This is fundamentally a question of power, so it starts with the equal representation of women in leadership positions, in governments, boardrooms, in climate negotiations and at the peace table – everywhere decisions are taken that affect people’s lives.

Achieving this will require targeted measures including affirmative action and quotas. This is a human rights issue and a social and economic imperative.

I encourage all Member States to make concrete, timebound, and ambitious commitments to women’s leadership and full participation.

At the United Nations, we achieved gender parity in our leadership at the beginning of 2020, with 90 women and 90 men as full-time senior leaders.

We are now working for parity at all levels, not only for the sake of our women staff, but because women’s leadership and participation makes institutions like ours more effective – as we have seen in the response to the pandemic.


COVID-19 is a catastrophe, but it is also an opportunity for transformative thinking that puts women front and centre of the response and the recovery.

Stimulus funds should put money directly into women’s hands through cash transfers and credits. Governments should expand social safety nets to women in the informal economy, and recognize the value of unpaid care work.

I repeat my call for urgent, comprehensive action on gender-based violence. The United Nations is working to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including through our partnership with the European Union, the Spotlight Initiative.  

Looking forward, we need transformative, women-led changes to the failed structures and frameworks exploited by this pandemic.  That is the only way we will implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieve lives of dignity and opportunity for all.

I also urge you to step up support for the grassroots civil society organizations that have always been at the vanguard of the women’s rights movement.  

The upcoming Generation Equality Forum, co-hosted by the Governments of Mexico and France, will be an opportunity to build networks and partnerships for change.


In recent times, we have seen around the world a pushback against gender equality and women’s rights.

Now is the time to push back against the pushback.

I would like to correct a common misconception. The Beijing Conference did not only concern women. It concerned women, men, girls and boys.

Women’s full human rights and freedoms are fundamental to peace and prosperity on a healthy planet. For everyone, everywhere.

I salute the visionary women – and men – who led the way 25 years ago.

Let’s finish what they started.

Thank you.