Deputy Secretary-General Remarks On Economic Growth Through Women’s Empowerment.




New York, 27 September 2018


[as delivered]


It is indeed a pleasure to join you today. 


Women’s entrepreneurship is just one of several areas where we are failing women and failing to reap the benefits of gender equality. Today, I would like to talk about these in the context of a broad picture.


Women’s abilities and qualifications are not in doubt. But despite the steady increase in women graduates, just 24 percent of senior management positions are filled by women. 


The number of women leading Fortune 500 companies fell this year from 32 to 24. That is less than 5 percent. 


Women fill just 23 per cent of parliamentary positions around the world, and just 5 percent of heads of state and government are women.  Of course, there are fantastic exceptions, like the ones I have here on my right hand side.


Let’s be clear. These limitations are not because women cannot lead, but because they may not. They are prevented from achieving leadership positions by practical and cultural obstacles at all levels, from lack of opportunity to lack of basic human decency. 


More than 2.7 billion women are affected by legal barriers against employment in certain areas. Other women face obstacles because of traditional attitudes and cultural norms. 


For women in management, in addition to the glass ceiling, researchers have identified a “glass cliff” – when a woman is brought in to lead a corporation on the verge of failure. 


Some industries are particularly troubling. More than twice as many women as men who break into the technology field leave their jobs within a few years. This female brain drain must end.


Male-dominated work environments can be hostile and antithetical to women’s advancement. Women may suffer pervasive abuses and acts of intimidation.  Sexual harassment and abuse of authority is not uncommon – in all sectors and at all levels. 


We must take action – starting at home. 


Gender-based discrimination affects the work of the United Nations across all three pillars. 


Discrimination against women and girls is one of the biggest human rights crises we face. It often goes hand-in-hand with oppression of minorities and other abuses. 


Respect for the equal rights of all is a fundamental goal in itself. But more than this, we simply cannot address the complex and growing global challenges of our day without the capacity of half of our population. 


Women’s equal participation in the labor force would unlock trillions for our global economy, and women are proven agents of sustainable development, investing salaries and profits into their families and communities, with benefits for health, education, and stability. 


Companies with women on their boards are more profitable, and women’s greater political representation is correlated with increased social spending and decreased inequality. 


Peace agreements are 30 percent more likely to last when women are meaningfully represented at the negotiating table – but they are routinely excluded. 


Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power. 


We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. 


In order to redress the imbalance of power, we need strong policies on gender parity. 


Since I took office, I have introduced a system-wide strategy on gender parity with targets and timelines and taken a proactive approach to addressing sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and abuse by UN agencies across the world.


We now have parity in my Senior Management Group and among those who lead our country teams. 


We have the highest number of female heads and deputy heads of peacekeeping and political missions in our history, but still very far from parity. 


But we must move faster, particularly in our peacekeeping missions. I have asked my senior leadership urgently to address lack of progress in this area.


Without women’s full participation and leadership, we can never build peaceful, prosperous societies on a healthy planet – the overarching goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires that. 


My reform agenda will put equality and gender expertise at the heart of all we do. 


Allow me to end with an anecdote.


When I was pushing for a quota for women in all the bodies of my political party and for the lists presented by my political party for all elections - at the time this was, almost thirty years ago, a modest quota of one third. There was a huge reaction within the party. The most common argument was, “Oh, we don’t mind women on the board of the party, but they must be competent.” To which I answered, “Sorry, dear friends, but there only will be equality with incompetent women as members of the Board of our party, because the Board of our party is full of incompetent men.”