Despite Gains, Poverty ‘Still Has a Woman’s Face’ Secretary-General Tells High-Level Meeting on Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment in Africa

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the high-level meeting on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa, in Addis Ababa today:

In 1995, African women made their voices heard during the Beijing World Conference on Women.  It was a pivotal moment for global recognition of the rights of women and girls.  African women were also instrumental in advocating for the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security two decades ago, which recognized the vital contribution of women to the pursuit of peace and called for their inclusion in all levels of negotiation processes.

Some of these trailblazers are featured in the United Nations-African Union commemorative book She Stands for Peace, which we will launch this evening.  For us all, this year’s anniversaries of Beijing+25 and of resolution 1325 (2000) must push us further and faster towards progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Africa’s women have seen considerable advances.  Women’s political representation has doubled, though men still currently hold over 75 per cent of seats in Africa’s parliaments.  Girls’ access to education and health care continues to increase.  And Africa is the only region in the world where more women than men choose to become entrepreneurs.

Research shows that accelerating progress on gender equality could boost African economies by 10 per cent by 2025.  Yet, progress still falls short of the commitments made in 1995.  Let’s be frank; in Africa, as all over the world, we live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture.  This is essentially a question of power.  What I have learned since being a young boy is that power is not usually given.  Power must be taken.

As it is a question of power, as my dear friend [African Union Commission Chair] Moussa Faki said, parity in decision-making bodies is absolutely essential.  And I am very happy to say that we are following the example he has led in the African Union and I can announce that, since 1 January, we have, for the first time in the history of the United Nations, full gender parity in the high-level management of the United Nations.  We have full parity at Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General in the Secretariat and the funds and programmes – 80 men and 80 women.  This represents a first step for full gender parity in 2028 at all levels of the United Nations, which remains our basic objectives.

But poverty in Africa, as in the rest of the world, still has a woman’s face.  For every 100 men aged between 25 and 34 living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, there are 127 women.  Women are often concentrated in precarious jobs and they carry a disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work.  Violence against women remains pervasive.

I was High Commissioner for 10 years and in Africa, as in many parts of the world, I have seen with my own eyes how women and girls are the main victims of conflict, the main victims of displacement and the main victims of violence in terms of instability in any part of the world.

Although by now we clearly understand the benefits — indeed, the imperative — of inclusion and gender equality for achieving peace and sustainable development, our actions fall short.  As the world recommits to achieving irreversible progress towards gender equality, I encourage African States, in partnership with civil society and other stakeholders, to contribute to the Beijing+25 Action Coalitions.  These Action Coalitions will build on our successes and take forward the remaining promises of the African Women’s Decade, which is concluding this year.

The United Nations stands alongside the African Union in working to overcome the peace and security, development and human rights challenges that continue to limit African women and girls.  This entails dismantling barriers to gender equality and women’s empowerment.  We must facilitate women’s meaningful contributions to the communities they live in.  That means enhancing women’s social, economic and financial inclusion.  It means providing true protection against violence — in conflict and in peacetime, on the streets and in the home.  And it means making sure women and girls are encouraged to develop scientific skills and ensuring that they have access to innovation and technology.

It is rather strange that the area where we see more male chauvinism in the economy is exactly in some of the more high-tech places, namely Silicon Valley.  This is a battle we must win; if not, we risk to reverse all the trends for gender equality of the last decades in a future world [inaudible].  This can help close the gender digital divide and promote access for women to high-quality jobs.

The leadership of the African Union, the regional economic communities and individual Member States are key to achieving these goals.  The full ratification and operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will facilitate the free movement of business travellers and investments for Africa’s 1.27 billion people, is instrumental in this regard.

For African women, these important opportunities are reinforced by the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa, as it seeks to transform the banking and financial landscape for African women in business.  I commend the African Development Bank for this initiative.

I also reaffirm my commitment and support, through the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and UN-Women [United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women], to the African Women Leaders Network initiative, and the African Women Leadership Fund, being launched today.  The spread of African Women Leaders Network national chapters across Africa carries the promise of a revived women’s movement that has the potential to galvanize change and transform African communities for the better.

We must seize these opportunities to anchor gender equality and women’s empowerment at the centre of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063.  Let us ensure that the needs and perspectives of Africa’s women and girls are fully integrated into our efforts to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

And I once again want to thank the African Union for the leadership it has shown in this regard.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.