Opening Commission on Status of Women, Secretary-General States ‘Poverty Has a Female Face’, Urges Financial Architecture Reform to Accelerate Gender Equality

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

It is always a pleasure to address the Commission on the Status of Women — the preeminent global body dedicated to promoting the rights of women and girls.

Progress on women’s rights has overwhelmingly come from civil society and women’s rights organizations.  I have seen it myself in every corner of the world.  And I have seen how that progress benefits all our communities and societies.

So, thank you for everything you do.

Our world is going through turbulent times, and women and girls are being hit hard.  In conflict zones around the globe, women and girls are suffering most from wars waged by men.

Today is the first day of Ramadan — a time of compassion, reflection and understanding.  I am appalled and outraged that conflict is continuing in Gaza during this holy month. Families seeking shelter from Israeli bombardment are struggling to survive, as hunger and malnutrition take hold. This is heart-breaking and utterly unacceptable.

Once again, I call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the unconditional release of all hostages and a massive increase in humanitarian aid. In a statement to the press this morning, I stressed the need — at the very least — for a cessation of hostilities and the release of the hostages during the holy month of Ramadan.

Last week, I made a similar appeal for a cessation of hostilities in Sudan.  In the spirit of Ramadan, I appeal to all those involved in conflict everywhere to silence the guns and return to the peace table.  Around the world, conflict and crisis are increasing, with a devastating impact on women and girls.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban has issued more than 50 edicts suppressing women’s and girls’ rights.

In Sudan, scores of women have reportedly been subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence in the ongoing conflict.

In Israel, there are horrific accounts in the report by my Special Representative, Pramila Patten, of sexual violence against women and girls and indications of sexualized torture during the terror attacks launched by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October.

The report also includes shocking testimonies of sexual violence against Palestinian women in detention settings, house raids and checkpoints in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  And more than two thirds of the tens of thousands of people killed and injured during Israel’s military operations in Gaza are reportedly women and children.

Meanwhile, despite evidence that women’s full participation makes peacebuilding much more effective, the number of women in decision-making roles is actually falling.  Women were virtually absent from talks on ending the conflicts in Ethiopia, Sudan, Myanmar and Libya.

The facts are clear: women lead to peace.  Budgets and policies must follow — with ambitious targets for women’s participation and urgent investments in women’s peacebuilding.

Many women and girls are also facing a war on their fundamental rights at home and in their communities.  Hard-fought progress is being reversed.  Women’s rights are fundamentally a question of power, and I see two deeply worrying trends.

First, despite enormous progress that all of you have helped realize — the patriarchy is far from vanquished.  It is regaining ground.  Autocrats and populists are attacking women’s freedoms and their sexual and reproductive rights.  They promote what they call “traditional” values.

And patriarchy is indeed an age-old tradition.  Discrimination against women goes back millennia.  We don’t want to bring it back.  We want to turn it back.  We cannot accept a world in which grandmothers fear their granddaughters will enjoy fewer rights than they had.

We must speak out, loud and clear:  not on our watch.

At the same time, I see another worrying trend in power relations over the coming decades:  in digital technologies.  Those technologies, and particularly artificial intelligence, are today dominated by men — as leaders and at the technical level.

There is a mountain of evidence that, when systems are designed by men, they result in biased algorithms.  Women’s needs, women’s bodies and women’s fundamental rights are ignored.  Male-dominated algorithms could literally programme inequalities into activities from urban planning to credit ratings to medical imaging — for years to come.

This endangers men and boys, as well as women and girls.

It’s time for Governments, civil society and the Silicon Valleys of the world to join a massive effort to bridge the digital gender divide and ensure women have decision-making roles in digital technology at all levels.

This is one of the main goals of the Global Digital Compact that will be central to the Summit of the Future in September.

Your gathering this year is focused on how tackling poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective are critical to accelerate gender equality.

The reason is simple:  globally, poverty has a female face.  Women have less access to land, natural resources and financial assets.  They suffer the impacts of climate change more than men.  And they are more likely to be food insecure.

The International Labour Organization estimates that — worldwide — women, as an average, earn just 51 cents for every dollar earned by a man.  Economic sectors dominated by women are undervalued, underpaid — and even, in some cases, unpaid.  Women’s invisible domestic labour is a subsidy to the entire economy.

Meanwhile, the violence that is a pervasive feature of many women’s lives can feed a vicious cycle:  poverty intensifies the risks of violence, and violence makes women poorer. This is simply unacceptable.

At the global level, we are failing to invest in women and girls.  And the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, mounting debt, climate-related disasters and an ongoing cost-of-living crisis are all shrinking the pie even more.

We will not solve today’s challenges by relying on a global financial system that helps perpetuate inequality.

I am therefore calling for an SDG Stimulus that would provide $500 billion annually in affordable long-term finance for developing countries.  The proposal includes a debt lifeline to create breathing space for countries facing impossible repayment schedules.

Leaders endorsed the Stimulus at last year’s SDG Summit.  I urge all countries to support these efforts to increase the investments that will achieve SDG 5 on gender equality and turbocharge progress across the entire 2030 agenda.

And I count on Governments’ support for deep reform of the international financial architecture at the Summit of the Future in September, so that it reflects today’s global economy and meets the financial needs of developing countries, enabling them to invest in equality and opportunity for women and girls.

At the national level, Governments have a responsibility to invest in ending poverty and achieving inclusive, sustainable development for all. That takes budgets and taxes that address the specific needs of women and girls living in poverty.  It takes policies that drive women’s full economic participation and empowerment through decent work, training, upgrading skills, accessible public services and social protection.

Governments must recognize the key economic role of unpaid care work, with policies that support both mothers and fathers to take paid work outside the home.  They should ensure that their climate policies, including a just and equitable transition to renewable energy, boost employment opportunities for women and improve access to goods and services for women and girls.

And they must do more to prevent the global scourge of violence against women and girls and end the abomination of female genital mutilation. Equal rights for women and girls depend on ending violence and abuse against them.

Accelerating gender equality by tackling poverty requires women’s full representation and leadership of financial institutions.  More than 8 out of 10 finance ministers are men.  More than 9 out of 10 central bank governors are men.  Overwhelmingly male-dominated financial institutions need to dismantle the structural barriers that are blocking women from leadership roles. Business as usual is business dominated by men.

But change doesn’t just happen.  We did not achieve gender parity at senior levels of the United Nations by accident.  We did it with a determined effort to change our culture and welcome women into leadership roles.  And that effort produced results.  We achieved full gender parity among senior management and UN leaders around the world for the first time in history.

If the United Nations can do it, Governments can do it, banks can do it, and everyone must do it.  Across the UN system, the representation of women in the Professional and higher categories is at a historic high.

We are pursuing full gender parity at all levels and in each and every entity, prioritizing areas where progress is slow — especially our field missions.  And we are supporting the fight for equality far beyond our own Organization.

On International Women’s Day, I launched the United Nations System-Wide Gender Equality Acceleration Plan.  This commits to placing women and girls in the centre of all our work; to opening financing opportunities for grass-roots women’s organizations; and to working with Member States for an ambitious revitalization of the CSW.  Your Commission.

The Commission on the Status of Women is a catalyst for the transformation we need.  At this difficult and divided moment, let’s work together to end poverty in all its dimensions.

Let’s do it by investing in women and girls, betting on women and girls and pushing for peace and dignity for women and girls everywhere.

For information media. Not an official record.