Strongest Heroines Found in Toughest Conditions, Secretary-General Says, as Commission on Status of Women Begins Sixtieth Session
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the opening of the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York today:
Thank you very much for your leadership for gender equality and gender empowerment. Welcome to the United Nations. It is a great pleasure for me to be here today with so many distinguished women leaders from all around the world.
I feel truly inspired. You empower me and I am energized by your energy and strength. I thank you very much. You are here to change the world. When I see all of you — from so many different countries, with so much experience and such strong commitment — I know we can achieve full equality for all women, everywhere around the world.
As early as my first speech to the General Assembly, as soon as I was elected as Secretary-General in [October 2006], at that time I promised to push for gender equality worldwide and within the United Nations. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, human rights start close to home.
During the last nine years as Secretary-General, I have appointed more than 150 distinguished women as Assistant Secretary-General or Under-Secretary-General. When I took office, there were no women special representatives — often known as SRSGs — in the field. Today, nearly a quarter of United Nations missions are headed by women. That is not nearly enough, but it is a major step in realizing the Security Council’s historic resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.
We are now shattering glass ceilings, and this commitment will continue. The deeply rooted prejudice that women are not capable of dealing with security matters; that is completely untrue. I did my best to promote women at the United Nations. And I call on Governments, businesses and others to step up for gender equality, which demands nothing less than full respect for the human rights of women and girls everywhere.
Everywhere I travelled, I tried to understand women’s concerns. I was angered by their political exclusion. I was dismayed by the slow progress on maternal health. And I knew it was long past time to end the pandemic of violence against women and girls.
In 2010, we consolidated four different United Nations entities together under the powerhouse UN-Women. I appreciate the excellent leadership of the President of Chile, Her Excellency Michelle Bachelet, who led as the first head of UN-Women. And I am deeply grateful to our outstanding current Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Our new global force for women has made its mark.
We set up the Every Woman, Every Child movement because no mother should die while giving birth – and no infant or child should die when we could have saved them earlier. We launched our UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign. I was proud to be the first man to sign up to the HeForShe campaign to mobilize men and boys. This built on my Network of Men Leaders fighting for full equality around the world.
Violent extremists are striking at United Nations values waging battles on the bodies of women and girls. The new United Nations Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism sets out specific proposals to give women more influence in the global response. And the Plan calls for ensuring that efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism never violate any human rights. When we stay true to our principles, we stay on the right side of history and the winning side on this issue.
I thank you for all that we have done together — and I call on you to do much, much more. In nine years as Secretary-General, I have travelled to some of the harshest places on earth for women. Yes, there are victims. But, in the toughest conditions you find the strongest heroines. In countries where children have been “disappeared”, grandmothers stood up to demand justice. In areas ravaged by AIDS, HIV-positive mothers replaced stigma with hope.
In homophobic societies, lesbian victims of rape survived and organized. In communities that practise FGM, activists said it should not stand for “female genital mutilation”; FGM should stand for “focus on girls’ minds”, so that FGM means “finally girls matter”.
Where violent extremists threaten female students, young girls courageously attend school. In United Nations peacekeeping operations, our female police serve as role models of equality. At state houses and in parliaments, women officials show that leadership has no gender.
I take this opportunity as Secretary-General of the United Nations to make a personal appeal: I urge action by all those leaders of countries where not even a single woman is in the Parliament or Cabinet to end this injustice. There are still [five] countries in the world where not a single woman is represented in the Parliament and [seven] countries without any women in the Cabinet. I am not going to disclose the names of the countries today, but I am urging them: they know who you are. I will be checking every day until the last day of my mandate as Secretary-General. I will keep pushing until the world has no parliaments and no cabinets without any women.
In clinics and labs, schools and courthouses, farms and boardrooms, women leaders insist on equality — and show its value. In the face of grave threats and attacks, women human rights defenders stand for freedom and women journalists speak out for the truth. I pay tribute to the thousands of heroines I have met along the way. And I commend the men who join us because they know women’s rights are human rights that we secure for the benefit of everyone.
As long as one woman’s human rights are violated, our struggle is not over. The world is full of inequalities and injustices for women and girls, but after nearly 10 years as Secretary-General, I know those are no match for our resolve to create a future of full equality.
Thank you all for inspiring me with your outstanding commitment. I thank you for being such an incredible source of energy and dynamism. I may be leaving my post at the end of this year, but I will never abandon this cause. I will always stand with you in the struggle for equality for all women and girls so that we can make this world a better place for all.
Let’s work together to make this [world] better for all, where men or women, old or young, rich or poor can live with human dignity. I count on your strong leadership and commitment. I thank you very much.