New York

9 June 2014

Secretary-General's remarks at the 30th anniversary gala dinner hosted by the International Women's Health Coalition (IWHC) in his honour

I am deeply honoured to accept this award on behalf of the United Nations.

I thank you so much for this – and for all that you have done to advance women’s health globally.

This Award is a profound honour for me – but it is also a call to action.

When I was growing up in Korea, it was considered “normal” for a woman or her baby to die in childbirth. Fortunately, like many other countries, Korea overcame that challenge.

Society owes every woman an equal chance at survival.

It is unconscionable that in a country such as South Sudan, one in seven pregnant women do not live to see their babies.

As Secretary-General, I have visited health posts, clinics and hospitals around the world. Just last month, I was in Toronto for the Summit on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. From all that I have seen – from Ethiopia to India, from Angola to Croatia and beyond – I am more convinced than ever that women’s health, especially sexual and reproductive health, is fundamental to their empowerment and gender equality. And when we empower women and foster equality, they can claim their right to health.

I count on His Royal Highness Prince Zeid to do everything possible to realize this vision when he takes up his post as High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Every Woman Every Child initiative has shown how partners coming together can save lives, protect future generations and set the world on course to greater progress. We count on the engagement of governments, businesses, activists – and especially valuable organizations like the IWHC.

We have seen progress in girls’ education. Women have greater equality in the workforce and political life. More people can choose the amount and spacing of their children thanks to unprecedented increases in the use of contraception. We have reduced deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth.

But 289,000 women still tragically die each year while trying to give life. More than 200 million women in our world lack access to the choice of modern contraception. One in three women experiences violence.

The Millennium Development Goals were the most successful anti-poverty campaign in history. Progress on women and children’s health drove progress across the Goals. We must carry this lesson forward as we plan the next generation of goals for the post-2015 era.

We have to provide supplies and services – but we also have to change mind sets. We must help communities to abandon harmful traditions such as child marriage or female genital mutilation. We have to foster the understanding that all men should respect the equal rights of women and girls. We have to help girls understand that they deserve all the same rights as boys. We have to provide comprehensive and accurate information, education and services that help young people make informed, safe choices.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will always treasure this Award – and I will never forget for a minute that the progress we have achieved is thanks to many remarkable individuals around the world.

Earlier this year, I met one such extraordinary young woman. She is a teenager living in the United Kingdom named Fahma Mohamad.

This February, she started a petition for action by her government against FGM. I added my full support. Pretty soon, she had gathered a quarter of a million signatures. It worked. The Government agreed to all of her proposals.

Fahma Mohamad is living proof of what one individual can do. When we come together, we can transform our world.

Thank you.