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We Must Push Back against Anti-Rights Pushback, Secretary-General Stresses in Opening Remarks to Commission on Status of Women

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks to the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York today:

It is a pleasure to join you in person to open one of the most energetic and dynamic annual events on the United Nations calendar — the Commission on the Status of Women.  I welcome everyone here and online.

This year’s Commission on the Status of Women confronts one of the most urgent issues of our time.  The unprecedented emergencies of the climate crisis, pollution, desertification and biodiversity loss, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact of new and ongoing conflicts, have accelerated and intensified into widespread and interlinked crises that affect us all.

But not equally.  Everywhere, women and girls face the greatest threats and the deepest harm.  Everywhere, women and girls are taking action to confront the climate and environmental crises.  And everywhere, women and girls continue to be largely excluded from the rooms where decisions are taken.

Women and girls living in small island nations, least developed countries and places affected by conflict are impacted most of all.  Women suffer most when local natural resources, including food and water, come under threat, and have fewer ways to adapt.

The nutrition, incomes and livelihoods of women farmers are disproportionately affected by environmental crises and extreme weather like droughts and floods.  There is increasing evidence that child marriage and exploitation are linked with the climate crisis.  And when climate disasters strike, as they do with increasing frequency, research shows that women and children are up to 14 times more likely than men to die.

Climate change is exacerbating conflicts around the world, with women peacebuilders often on the front line of sustaining peace and working to keep their families and communities going, even in the grip of interlocking crises.  I am deeply alarmed by the increase in violence and threats against women human rights defenders and environmental activists.

Compounding all these factors, gender discrimination means just a tiny proportion of landowners and leaders are women.  Women’s needs and interests are often ignored and pushed aside in policies and decisions about land use, pollution, conservation and climate action.

Just one third of decision-making roles under the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement are occupied by women, and only 15 per cent of environment ministers are women.  Around the world, only one third of 192 national energy frameworks include gender considerations.  And gender considerations are rarely taken into account in climate financing.

This demonstrates once more that we live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture.  We are still living with the results of millennia of patriarchy that excludes women and prevents their voices from being heard.  We cannot realize any of our goals without the contributions of all.  This is why everyone — including men and boys — should be working for women’s rights and gender equality.

The Paris Agreement is essential to the rights of women and girls.  Addressing biodiversity loss, land degradation and pollution are vital to creating lives of dignity for all on a healthy planet.  But we will not get there without women’s full and equal participation and leadership.

Women and girl leaders are at the forefront of the climate and environmental movements.  Women farmers and indigenous women are authorities on managing resources sustainably.  Women policymakers are essential to plan a future that takes everyone’s interests into account.  Women economists are rejecting outdated, male-centric models and metrics, putting equality and sustainability at the heart of their work.  Women lawyers are speaking up for the vulnerable and taking on powerful businesses interests that threaten their livelihoods.  Women scientists are bringing new perspectives to sustainability and renewable energy.  And women and girl climate activists are standing up for everyone’s rights to a liveable climate, now and for future generations.

In every sphere, women’s voices, rights and contributions are vital to build the sustainable economies and resilient societies of tomorrow.  My first-ever report on the links between the climate emergency and gender equality outlines concrete steps to put women and girls at the centre of climate and environmental policy.

Over the past two years, gender inequalities and injustices have been highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Millions of women have been thrown out of work, with a crushing impact on their economic and social rights.  Millions more have been confronted with an impossible choice between earning an income or doing unpaid but essential care work.  Millions of girls are out of school.  Many may never return.

Tackling these issues requires a united front, protecting hard-won gains on women’s rights while investing in lifelong learning, health care, decent jobs and social protection for women and girls.  Gender equality and women’s rights must be at the heart of a renewed social contract that is fit for today’s societies and economies.  We are seeing a pushback on women’s rights; we must push back on the pushback.

At the global level, my report on Our Common Agenda proposes a rebalancing of power and resources through a New Global Deal. Gender equality is a prerequisite.

The report proposes a new agenda for peace with the goal of reducing all forms of violence — including gender-based violence — and putting women and girls at the heart of security policy.

I thank women’s civil society groups for your important contributions to Our Common Agenda and encourage your continued support for the proposals.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is working every day to support the participation and leadership of women at every stage of building and maintaining peace.  We have reached, more than one year ago, gender parity at the level of 190 senior leaders of the United Nations, Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-Generals.  And we have full gender parity in the leadership of country teams — the Resident Coordinators.  And this is essential to make the UN more able to represent all of the people in the world.

My Special Envoys and Special Representatives are designing and supporting strategies for more inclusive peace processes.  Gender advisers in our special political missions promote women’s participation and ensure women’s priorities as integral to all our political efforts.

We work closely with women’s mediation networks in Africa, the Mediterranean and beyond.

This is not only a matter of justice.  Women’s equal leadership and participation are vital to create peaceful, resilient communities and societies.

We cannot separate the perilous state of peace in our world from long-standing structures of patriarchy and exclusion.  And the war in Ukraine is another clear demonstration of this everywhere.

The climate and environmental crises, coupled with the ongoing economic and social fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, are the defining issues of our time.

Our collective response will chart our course for decades to come.

To forge the sustainable future we need, women and girls must be front and centre, leading the way.

Your work in this Commission is vital to that effort.

I wish you a successful meeting.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.