“The excitement about Generation Equality is something you can now feel and touch”— UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, interactive virtual side event on the Generation Equality Forum: The road to Mexico, Paris and beyond

Date: Monday, March 22, 2021


[As delivered]

Thank you so much for this inspiring start and thank you to all the young people. Thank you, Mexico, for giving us a teaser of what to expect from the Forum. I think that today, in all earnest, the countdown to Mexico has started. And thank you Sherwin Bryce-Pease for your facilitation and all the other young facilitators for managing the programme thus far. The Governments of Mexico and France have truly stepped up to facilitate an accelerated journey to gender equality. To the Member States who have come onboard in all their diversity, and the ones that are co-hosting today: Canada, Malawi and The Netherlands: thank you for offering us this opportunity. To civil society, in all its diversity, with young people at the core: thank you for having stewarded the journey and brought us this far. And, of course, thank you to my colleagues in the United Nations family. Thank you for your enthusiasm. The video that we just watched showed that the United Nations is all in for Generation Equality.

The excitement about Generation Equality is something you can now feel and touch.

So, today is a curtain raiser. We are beginning to look at the substantive and strategic dialogues that will feature on the agenda in Mexico from the 29th to the 31st of March. We are hoping to emerge from that with the concrete steps that we are going to be taking to close the gender gap.

What is unique about Generation Equality? Generation Equality responds to the gaps that we identified when we evaluated the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. It also responds to the concerns that we have about the slow progress in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. But it also now responds to the challenges that have been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beijing in 1995 was a moment when women brought to the table the context of women’s deprivation and the denial of women’s rights all over the world. They made sure that Member States and everyone understood that women’s rights are human rights. And then continued from then onwards to embark on a programme of changing the laws so that gender equality is not seen as a ‘nice-to-do’ or an ancillary development or charity type activity but is about rights. The last 25 years has seen the development of jurisprudence, and of gender equality which has evolved to what it is today, such that you can have moments like #MeToo taking off the way it did.

But, even with all of that energy, with all of those Member States that were in Beijing having come together, having stayed within this collective that is taking forward the Beijing Platform for Action – we have not achieved all that we hope to achieve.

We now feel it’s time to change gears. To bring in a new constituency with energy. To diversify the participants. As well as to stand firmly on the shoulders of those who have been carrying this task for the last 25 years. Generation Equality is about creating activities that will act in a manner that supports the intergovernmental processes such as those being discussed in the Commission on the Status of Women, so that where they fall short, this will also complement them and make sure we move forward.

It is a business plan for everyone because, in Generation Equality, we want to be a coalition that includes and not excludes. So, we are open to all the controversies that we will face. We must face them, and try to make the relationships work, that come with working with people who come from different spaces. We should stay focused on achieving what is important for women through this business plan. It is about generating resources and budgets to support the plan – something that we did not manage to do in Beijing, so we are learning and improving our organizing tactics. It is also about naming the concrete and measurable deliverables within timeframes that we have agreed on.

We said that Generation Equality will run from 2021 to 2026, when we will evaluate what we have done and how much we have moved towards entrenching a human rights culture and delivering concretely on the needs of women.

And, of course, the actions that we choose for Generation Equality must be game-changing. They must be bold. Because we cannot do incremental change. This is the last effort to make change that is significant, change that is systemic, and change that will last. We are in a pandemic that has showed us how much inequality affects women. It has shown us this through the increase of violence against women, girls dropping out of school, the digital divide, the increase in the burden of care that is being shouldered by women – all of those things are part of what we have to address in Generation Equality.

It is therefore not acceptable that 80 per cent of the task teams addressing COVID-19 are predominantly men. This cannot be. We have to reset and build back better by ensuring that women have a strategic and meaningful place at the table. Because if we lose the time to reset right now, it’s going to take a long time before we get an entry point again. So, all hands-on deck! Let us start with changing the way we deal with COVID-19, which is part of changing how Generation Equality will deliver.


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