Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks for the opening of the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York on 12 March:
It is wonderful to be here at the Commission on the Status of Women, one of the most dynamic intergovernmental bodies, at such a pivotal moment for the rights of women and girls.
Across the world, women are telling their stories and provoking important and necessary conversations — in villages and cities; in boardrooms and bedrooms; in the streets and in the corridors of power. In Latin America, France, India, the Middle East, China and here in the United States… From “MeToo” to “Time’s Up” to “The Time is Now”, women and girls are calling out abusive behaviour and discriminatory attitudes.
And let’s be clear the central question we face is a question of power. Power is normally never given, power normally needs to be taken. We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. And that is why the empowerment of women and girls is our common central objective.
Centuries of patriarchy and discrimination have left a damaging legacy. Sexist attitudes and stereotypes are widespread in Governments, the private sector, academia, the arts, science and technology, and even in civil society and international organizations like the United Nations.
Women are pioneering scientists and mathematicians — but they occupy less than 30 per cent of research and development jobs worldwide. Women are accomplished artists, writers, musicians and film-makers. But this year, 33 men took home Academy Awards, and only 6 women. Women are gifted negotiators and communicators — but at the United Nations, the proportion of women ambassador’s hovers around 20 per cent.
It is only when we have changed statistics like these that we can truly say: we are in a new era for women and girls.
A girl born into poverty has a far higher chance of dropping out of school, marrying early, suffering complications during childbirth, experiencing violence, and passing this legacy on to her children. Widows, indigenous women, women with disabilities and women who do not conform to gender norms face the greatest challenges of all.
By building equality, we give women a chance to fulfil their potential. And we also build more stable societies. Women’s participation in decision-making makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous.
Conversely, attacks on the fundamental rights of women and girls can be precursors to radicalization and violent extremism.
I thank everyone here for your efforts to bring together the United Nations, Governments, civil society and grassroots networks, to reach women and girls everywhere. The theme of your gathering this year highlights rural women: a group that is particularly marginalized and may lack access to health care, education and technology.
But rural women are often the backbone of their families and communities, managing land and resources. They may be experts on climate resilience and on sustainable development.
We often talk about empowering women. When women are already taking action, we need to listen to them and to support them.
The Commission on the Status of Women is leading the way. We are also proud of our strong partnership with the European Union on the Spotlight Initiative to end violence against women and girls. We have already begun to build programmes that address femicide in Latin America — where women are killed on a daily basis with widespread impunity.
Preventing and ending violence against women and girls, and lifting up marginalized women, indigenous women, women in rural communities, and women refugees and migrants, will lift everyone and ensure that no one is left behind. And this is essential to fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — our global pledge to eradicate poverty and to create a safer, more sustainable world on a healthy planet.
The United Nations has a responsibility to lead from the front and to set an example for the world. Since I became Secretary-General, I have made a concerted effort to set change in motion. We have already reached gender parity in the Senior Management Group for the first time. As of last month, 23 women and 21 men are the top leadership of the United Nations organization. My road map envisages gender parity at senior levels of our leadership by 2021 in all categories, and ultimately in 2028 across the board.
Women now fill one third of positions as heads and deputy heads of peacekeeping missions, still far behind our objective — it is the highest proportion ever, we are on track to meet our targets, but there is a long way to go and we need to do it together.
And I am completely committed to zero tolerance of sexual harassment and have set out plans to improve reporting and accountability. We have now a helpline for victims, and we are creating a specialized investigation team for sexual harassment, able to provide women that are victims with the confidence in the Organization that unfortunately is still lacking.
One of my first steps was to launch an initiative to address sexual exploitation and abuse by those serving in the United Nations. We are working with Governments and civil society to prevent and address these crimes and to support survivors. I am determined to build on the progress we have already made.
But change must go beyond strategies and statistics. I am committed to transforming the culture of the United Nations, to create an enabling environment for all. And this is essential, if we are to give our strongest support to the women and girls of the world as they fight for their rights.
Progress for women and girls means changing the unequal power dynamics that underpin discrimination and violence. This is not only the greatest human rights challenge of our time. It is also in everyone’s interests. Discrimination against women damages communities, organizations, companies, economies and societies. That is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality. And that is why I consider myself a proud feminist.
The work of this Commission is vital to end the stereotypes and discrimination that limit women’s and girls’ opportunities. From schools to offices, lecture halls and laboratories, in movies, advertising and the media, we need to make it clear: Women’s abilities are limitless. Women’s ambitions are infinite.
I urge you to continue to raise your voices for women’s equality, dignity and human rights. Your work is essential to a more just and decent world for all. And I am committed to doing my part.