Women’s Empowerment Principles Must Involve Many Thousands of Businesses to Effect Transformative Change, Secretary-General Says at Annual Event

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Women’s Empowerment Principles 2015 Annual Event, in New York today:

It is my great pleasure to open the Women’s Empowerment Principles 2015 Annual Event at the fifty-ninth Commission on the Status of Women.   With this event we are marking the twentieth anniversary of the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

We still remember, we are seeing these days even, the historic, legendary speech which was made by then-First Lady, Madame [Hilary] Clinton, at that time.  Women’s rights are human rights; human rights are women’s rights once and for all.

Thank you for your legacy, we are trying to build upon this Beijing Declaration and your leadership and legacy.  Thank you for taking time [to attend this event].  In fact, I hope I would be able to speak as freely as Phumzile [Mlambo-Ngcuka] did about her future, but I will wait some more time.

I am particularly pleased to welcome so many members of the business community to this milestone event.  Businesses were not part of the discussions in Beijing 20 years ago.  Now it is clear that achieving gender equality will require the concerted efforts of all actors.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles provide a road map for businesses to play their role in respecting and supporting women’s rights.  We live in a challenging time — fraught with risks, yet full of possibilities.

Among the greatest risks is not realizing women’s equality or nurturing their potential.  Women’s empowerment has a powerful multiplier effect on sustainable development.

The full participation of both genders is the only way we can ensure that we have the best solutions, that no one is left behind and that together we can build the future that we collectively want.

Removing the barriers that keep women and girls on the margins of economic, social, cultural and political life must be a top priority for us all — businesses, Governments, the United Nations and civil society.

When I launched the Women’s Empowerment Principles in 2010, our ambition was to deeply engage businesses to advance gender equality and sustainability.  In the past five years, we have reached nearly 1,000 companies, each of which has made a commitment at the highest level to implement the seven guiding Principles.

As we reflect on the Beijing+20 findings and prepare to implement the sustainable development goals that will guide us for the next 15 years, until 2030, it is extremely positive to see so many business leaders stepping up to work with us.

I am particularly gratified that seven Women’s Empowerment Principles are resonating around the world, helping hundreds of companies to identify gaps and scale up their efforts to implement gender equality and empower women in their workplaces, marketplaces and communities.

There are many examples of companies that are taking real steps to close the gender gap.  A global electrical energy company has linked gender diversity performance to financial bonuses for executives.  In India, a water and sanitation company headed by a female CEO developed a bio-friendly toilet and made it available to rural and poor communities.  A Turkish bank has designed products and services to support women entrepreneurs.  And in Brazil, a renewable energy company has set up a domestic violence shelter and support system, and rallied male employees to help end violence against women.

But, if we are to produce transformative change, we must expand the Women’s Empowerment Principles into a movement that involves many thousands of companies.  I ask for your help in reaching companies in your networks and value chains.  For those of you already committed to the Principles, I ask you to redouble your efforts.

Transparency and accountability are areas where we need to make progress.  What gets measured gets done.  That is why I am pleased that the UN Global Compact is now asking companies to include gender equality criteria in their annual corporate sustainability reporting and I thank you for your commitment for gender empowerment.  I encourage all those companies supporting the Women’s Empowerment Principles to join the UN Global Compact and communicate your progress annually.

I also encourage Governments to promote the Women’s Empowerment Principles in interactions with business and to consider the performance of companies on gender equality when they make decisions in areas like procurement and partnerships for development.  According to a Fortune 500 [article] that I read one day, the more women are sitting in boardrooms the more benefits these companies are making.  So, please, remember this real fact.

In closing, I want to call your attention to the timeless message and mission of the United Nations as stated in the Charter:  “to reaffirm faith in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”.

To fulfil this promise we need to work together, and hold ourselves and each other accountable.  We must listen and lead.  This gathering which brings together Government, civil society and business in the spirit of collaboration and partnership has great potential.

I hope that the Women’s Empowerment Principles annual event will serve as an entry point for business participation at the Commission on the Status of Women for years to come.

I wish you a very successful meeting and look forward to its outcomes.  I thank you for your strong commitment and leadership.

For information media. Not an official record.