It is my great pleasure to join today’s third intergenerational retreat of the African Women Leaders Network.
I wish to thank President Uhuru Kenyatta for his continued commitment to youth’s and women’s participation and leadership. Also, the amazing women in his cabinet and office who have accompanied AWLN.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, thank you also for your passion, undying belief in the potential of all African women and your commitment to AWLN. Your presence and pioneering contributions to Africa’s efforts to advance peace, democracy, governance, and gender equality continue to inspire us all.
I also want to deeply appreciate Chairperson Faki Mahamat for his leadership. Your support to AWLN has established the platform as a key component of the African Union’s partnership with the UN.
I would also like to recognize the leadership of Bineta Diop without whom AWLN would not have inspired so many of us to come along.
To the AWLN Young Women Leaders Caucus members and to all the women leaders, young, and not-so-young, who are online today, it is my pleasure to be with you here today.
I traveled to Somalia recently in solidarity with our sisters there, and to support their advocacy for equal participation in political life. Among the many women I met with were older women, who had lived through decades of conflict and whose consistent advocacy had led to a 30% quota for women in the Upper and Lower Houses. I also met young women, who today see hope in a country that is rebirthing, and a commitment for equal representation and political participation. I was joined by one of these young women as we briefed the Security Council upon my return and she was amazing.
Young women’s vision for the future and leadership is ambitious, inspiring and transformative. And this should be reflected in the national chapters of the Network.
This is not to tick the box or instrumentalize young women as a means to an end, but rather to recognize that our population is young in Africa. And without joining forces, working together, holding leaders accountable and learning from each other - it will take us 140 years to realize gender equality in Africa.
I am pleased to see that the AWLN is contributing to this intergenerational partnership. We have an active Young Women’s Caucus, and it exists at the national level in some countries. And now we have an upcoming mentoring platform.
But we can and must do more. The COVID Pandemic has exposed a significant digital gender divide and has confirmed why internet access is a fundamental human right. Globally, 3.7 billion people do not have access to the internet. Half of them are women. The digital gender divide has been shrinking in some parts of the world, but data shows it is growing in Africa.
I would like to challenge you and encourage the leaders of the young women’s caucus to reach out to and include young women who may not have access to spaces like these, including those in rural areas, for example, or who have limited access to the internet. I want to challenge you to be creative and see how we can have more of them represented here. But in the meantime, we are not starting from zero. I applaud a young Senegalese sister Lady Marieme Jamme of ‘IamtheCode’ aiming to reach 10 million girls coding by 2030, blazing a trail. We must scale up leaving no one behind.
I also encourage you to use this network to build partnerships across countries and regions.
Finally, on the mentoring platform, let me say – sign me up. My schedule is quite full as it is with all leaders, and my engagement might be limited, but mentoring young women is something that we all take seriously. So please count me in. And I commit to also bringing with me senior women in my team and in the broader UN Leadership which includes the amazing women ambassadors in the Africa group here in New York.
You have an exciting agenda ahead of you. And I hope that over the next two days, the retreat will be a space to reflect on the challenges the continent and world must deal with; and to reaffirm our resolve and commitment to building a better, more peaceful, inclusive and sustainable Africa.
I look forward to the outcome of your deliberations that will spur even more action at the country level where the UN stands ready to accompany you on that journey.