Helen Clark: Speech at the Opening of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women

Mar 9, 2015

I am delighted to be at the opening of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in this twentieth anniversary year of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which remains as relevant for gender equality and women’s empowerment today as it was two decades ago.

The Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 brought together women from all walks of life around the world. The outcome from Beijing reflected their aspirations and reaffirmed women’s rights to equality.

The Beijing Platform for Action is a guiding document for the United Nations development system to this day. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are top priorities for us. Gender equality is a human right, and together with women’s empowerment it is a driver of human and sustainable development. No society can develop to its full potential unless women can participate fully and equally in all aspects of the life of their families, communities, and nations.

In the UN Development System’s work, we have sought to translate the Beijing Platform for Action into concrete improvements in the lives of women and girls. We have engaged with governments, women’s organisations, and civil society in general to address the needs of women and girls, and to promote women’s leadership and participation in all areas of development – from food security and political and economic empowerment to education, sexual and reproductive health, and environmental sustainability. The creation of UN Women in 2010 was an important step in enhancing co-ordination on gender equality and women’s empowerment across the UN, and across the UN development system we value its contribution.

But much more needs to be done to realize the vision of the Beijing Platform for Action. 2015 is a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity to ensure that gender is embedded in major global agendas related to development, from the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai in a few days time, to the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July, the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September here in New York, and the annual UN climate change Conference of Parties in Paris at the end of the year – where a new global treaty is due to be agreed. All these processes offer important opportunities for prioritizing the perspectives and needs of women and girls.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment will be crucial to achieving the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and its goals and targets. Since late 2012, the UN development system has been reaching out to the world’s citizens for input into that agenda, supporting 88 national dialogues, and eleven major thematic consultations - including one on gender equality.

Our worldwide survey, MY World, has had a huge response. More than seven million people have participated by voting on their priorities for the new agenda, with women making up about half the number of respondents. Close to one-third of the respondents put “equality between men and women” in their top six priorities for post-2015. The UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals has drawn on these inputs in making its proposals, and has included a goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In this twentieth anniversary year of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Co-ordination has urged all governments to reaffirm their political commitment “to advance equality, development, and peace for all women and girls everywhere and to guarantee their human rights”. As Chair of the UN Development Group and as UNDP Administrator, I am committed to prioritizing gender equality within our organizations and across our work.

This 59th Commission on the Status of Women will reflect on achievements in gender equality and women’s empowerment since 1995, and on the unfinished business which requires a redoubling of effort globally. Our goals must surely be to see that women have full access to sexual and reproductive health services and to all other health services, are full and equal partners in decision-making, and are able to make their own choices about their lives, enjoy equal access to education, and can live in peace in their homes and communities. Let us work for equally shared responsibilities in our homes too. This anniversary year is our opportunity to resolve to finish the unfinished business of Beijing and make transformational change possible for all women and girls.

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