14 March 2019
Leaders, Senior Officials Discuss Ways to Advance Women’s Leadership
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The UNGA President convened the High-Level Event ‘Women in Power’ concomitantly with the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Participants noted that: women still face challenges in politics, based on discrimination, social stereotypes and violence; women's salaries remain lower than men's; women are a fraction of the leadership in most countries; and legislation is not enough.

12 March 2019: Head of States, senior government leaders and officials from the UN system, the private sector and civil society discussed advancing women’s leadership during a high-level event hosted by UN General Assembly (UNGA) President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés. Espinosa remarked that if women and girls, who comprise about half of the global population, are excluded from decision-making processes, the SDGs will not be met. She also noted that a majority of countries have never been governed by a woman, and if current trends continue, it will take 107 years to reach gender parity.

SDG target 5.5 calls for ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. Prior to the adoption of the SDGs, the UNGA adopted resolution 66/130 on ‘Women and political participation’ that expresses concern regarding the marginalization of women from the political sphere in every part of the world, and inviting States to exchange experience and best practices on women’s political participation in all phases of the political process.

The UNGA President convened the High-Level Event ‘Women in Power’ on 12 March 2019, concomitantly with the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63). Among other observations, participants noted that gender equality is a question of power, as the world still lives in a male-dominated culture and most of the current institutions were made by men. They also stressed that: women still face challenges in politics, based on discrimination, social stereotypes and violence; there are more women than men graduating with doctorates in certain countries, but women’s salaries remain lower than men; and women are a fraction of the leadership in most countries.

Participants also remarked that: equality between women and men is a fundamental right; legislation is not enough, and should be accompanied by changes in the structure of power, an enabling environment and a change in mindsets; there is a need to break the stereotype that politics is a “dirty business” and not a place for women; and the “new generation” of boys and girls should be taught about the importance of gender equality.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, noted the importance of parity to change power relations in societies, adding that: when women are at the table, the chance of sustainable peace increases; when women have equal opportunities at work, development “accelerates tremendously;” and when gender is at the heart of humanitarian assistance, vital assistance has greater impact for everyone, in a much fairer way. He indicated that at the UN level, parity has been achieved at the level of the Senior Management Group and among the Resident Coordinators, and he will “push back against the pushbacks” until there is parity “across the board” in the organization.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women, reported that only ten countries have a gender-balanced cabinet, and only five percent of all corporate Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) are women. She noted the limited time remaining to bring fundamental changes to society considering that the last decade of the SDGs is approaching. Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland and Chair of CSW63, said maternity protection, public transport, education and women’s access to health care are among the topics discussed during the Commission’s session, which is considering the priority theme ‘Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.’

In a roundtable discussing ‘how women leaders change the world,’ Dalia Grybauskaitė, President of Lithuania, highlighted the need to govern with a sense of responsibility, not “for glory or money.” Bidya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal, outlined the importance of “solid constitutional and legal provisions” to bring changes in gender equality and to make women’s representation mandatory. Paula-Mae Weekes, President of Trinidad and Tobago, noted the under-representation of Caribbean women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Marta Lucía Ramírez, Vice-President of Colombia, remarked that: she is the first woman to be elected vice-president in her country; Colombia’s cabinet ministers have reached gender parity for the first time; and there is an intent to achieve gender parity in all ministries. Among initiatives taken by the country on gender equality, she reported that its new national development plan is designed around the SDGs, and women’s equality is a cross-cutting issue that relates to all 17 Goals. Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, reported that peace agreements negotiated by women are more durable and sustainable in general, and when women are around the table to discuss mediation and reconciliation, win-win solutions are reached more often than usual.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, President of Croatia, remarked that the gross domestic product (GDP) could increase by 31% by closing the gender gap, and reported that of the ten female heads of state worldwide, only three have been elected by popular vote. Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia, indicated that Estonia spends seven peacent of its GDP on education, and has more female ambassadors than male. She underlined the importance of universal health coverage, adding that her country has very low neonatal mortality.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, said Iceland ranks first on the global gender gap index for gender equality, and it has passed a law requiring large private companies to have a certain number of women on their executive board. She also mentioned ‘The Nordic Gender Effect at Work,’ a Nordic prime ministers’ flagship project to promote gender equality as both a goal and a prerequisite for decent work and economic growth. Alain Berset, Federal Councillor, Switzerland, noted that although five women have been president in Switzerland, this is not enough, since the country’s president changes every year. He indicated that the right to vote started in 1971 in his country, and highlighted changes brought by women in politics, such as the introduction of health insurance. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, participating via video message, said she is among the five percent of world leaders who are women, and the third female Prime Minister of New Zealand.

In a roundtable discussion on the ‘future of women’s leadership,’ Folly Bah Thibault, Al Jazeera, said it is proven that more gender-equal societies tend to grow faster and more equitably. Mary Robinson, President, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, and Chair of the Elders, stressed the need to open space for more diversity in decision-making, and for including grassroots women, indigenous women and others. Highlighting 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg who is working to stop global warming and climate change, she said girls should believe in themselves and be disruptive, adding “you are never too young to lead, and you are never too old to learn.”

Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, remarked that in Qatar more women graduate from universities than men, and Qatar has a high participation of women in the labor force. Marina Pendeš, Minister of Defence, Bosnia and Herzegovina, said her country established a mandatory gender quota in the army. She noted that the Parliament is only 21% women, despite the existence of legal frameworks on gender equality. Muniba Mazari, National Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women Pakistan, said equal opportunity is a basic human right, but women are often unaware of their rights. She added that religion should not be used as an excuse for gender inequality.

Among the countries that took the floor, Norway said there are nearly as many women in the workforce as men in her country, noting the existence of high-quality daycare for children, and generous parental leaves (49 weeks of leave at 100% pay, or 59 weeks at 80% pay). Niger noted the existence of a national office to promote women leaders, and reported that 10-15% of its parliamentarians are women.

Cuba said it has a high proportion of women judges and parliamentarians. Sudan said women have now reached 77% of the total number of judges. Stressing the need for data and evidence to inform decision-making, Finland said his country had taken action after the Finnish Parliament shared the results of a review on gender equality that found that some Parliamentarians experienced sexual harassment and heard sexist jokes while working.

According to the event’s webpage, a UNGA President’s summary of the discussions will be circulated to all Member States and other stakeholders.

Ahead of the Women in Power event on 12 March, President Espinosa held a press briefing on 8 March 2019. In the discussion with reporters, she highlighted:

  • The need for more women scientists and engineers, in order to include women in STEM fields and to ensure they are recognized for their work;
  • The greatest barrier to young female leadership is the exclusion of millions of girls from education;
  • Another big issue for the next generation of female leadership is mistreatment of women in public roles, known as “gender-based political violence.” Espinosa added that women leaders often hear comments about their clothes and hair instead of their achievements or their capacity to deliver;
  • The UN should continue to work towards gender parity at all levels; and
  • Widening inequalities could be one of the biggest structural challenges to achieving the 2030 Agenda, and this could be addressed at the upcoming session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

CSW 63 is taking place in New York, US, from 11-22 March 2019. [UN Webcast] [UN Secretary-General Statement] [UN News] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [Updated 5 April 2019: Summary from UNGA President]

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