Blog by Champion Michael Møller - Leveraging SDG 16 to improve implementation of SDG 5

Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, at XIV UNOG-DCAF Seminar “Leveraging SDG 16 to improve implementation of SDG 5”

Friday, 24 November 2017, at 09.30 AM, Room XXIII, Palais des Nations

"Ladies and Gentlemen:

The year 2234. That’s the year in which we will have achieved gender parity if we continue along current rates of change, according to the latest estimate by the World Economic Forum. It goes without saying that that’s not good enough. Not even close. Not by any stretch. 

At the risk of preaching to the converted, let me say this outright: 

̶ Without gender equality, the world can neither be just nor decent. 

̶ Without gender equality, economies can neither be stable nor resilient.

̶ Without gender equality, societies are less peaceful, and conflicts are infinitely more difficult to resolve. 

This means that achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5 – “gender equality” – is not simply a goal in itself, it is the sine qua non for all other goals.

Ask yourself this: Can we achieve SDG 1 – “zero poverty” – without it? Can we achieve SDG 8 – “economic growth” – without it? And, finally, can we achieve SDG 16 – “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” – without it?

The answers to all of the above is of course a resounding, a definitive No. 

This is why it is a privilege and an honor to be with you today to delve more deeply into this last question – the relationship between peace, security, and gender equality. Thank you, Ambassador Guerber, and everyone at DCAF for their support in realizing this important, timely and relevant discussion. 

I think (at least I hope) everyone in this room agrees on the importance of gender equality. So let’s take stock of how we are doing. I have brought with me some recent facts to illustrate. Here they are, in no particular order:

̶ Currently, only 50% of working age women are in the labor force, compared to 77% of men. 

̶ They are paid on average 23% less than men and carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work. 

̶ Only 23% of all national parliamentarians are female. 

̶ Only 30% of the world’s researchers are female.

̶ Only 4.2% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are female, meaning that of the 500 largest US companies, only 21 are led by a woman.

̶ Only 15 countries currently have an elected woman Head of State or Government. 

̶ Meanwhile, 62 million girls are denied an education all over the world. 

̶ Almost 4 out of 5 victims of human trafficking are girls. 

̶ 214 million women lack access to modern contraceptives and each day, 830 women are at risk of dying from causes related to childbirth. 

̶ In fact, women around the world aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. 

This is not to say that there has been no progress – there definitely has. Indeed, judged on access to opportunity, today is better to be a woman than a decade ago, and a decade from now will very likely be even better than today. But what these numbers do say is that over two decades since the landmark Beijing Declaration we are nowhere near where we need to be, nor are we moving there fast enough. So while we can and should celebrate real progress, we have to remember that progress is not inevitable. We need to do more. 

This starts with changing mindsets, from openly chauvinistic attitudes to – as today’s discussion will show – more implicit, more hidden biases.

We need to change the attitude that tells girls to be demure, and boys to be assertive; that sanctions girls for speaking out, and boys for shedding a tear.

We need to change the attitude that rewards being confident, competitive, and ambitious in the workplace – unless you’re a woman.

The point here, I think, is to acknowledge how pervasive such biases are. How no one is immune to them. Men still dominate, even in places that consider themselves progressive. Just think of Silicon Valley, and, yes, think of the United Nations. 

Changing mindsets is one thing, breaking down structural barriers another.

Any country that oppresses half the population – that doesn’t let them go to school or work, and does not give them control over their own bodies – that’s a society that will not work over the long term. It will not reach its potential. 

Just to give you a sense of the magnitude of the missed potential, consider this: Research from the McKinsey Global Institute indicates that achieving gender parity alone would add at least USD 12 trillion to global growth by 2025, and possibly as much as USD 28 trillion.

Research report after research report has identified that the greatest single investment in enhancing the prosperity and peace of a country is empowering its women.

And there are inspiring success stories across the world:

̶ In 2003, Rwanda embedded political accountability to gender equality in its constitution. Today, Rwanda ranks fourth worldwide in the Global Gender Gap Index, ahead of Sweden.

̶ In the 1990s, Canada improved incentives for secondary earners by introducing tax cuts and benefits for families with children. Today, Canada’s female labor participation rate is over 80%.

What is true on the global and national scale is also true on the scale of a single organization. 

Which brings me to the question of what our organization – the United Nations – is doing.

Let’s be clear first of all: the UN is not immune to broader trends. 

̶ Of the 15 Ambassadors in the Security Council, only 1 is female.

̶ In the General Assembly, only 3 women have served as President in 72 sessions held since 1946. At the general debate in 2016, women delivered less than 10% of all statements.

̶ In missions across the world, just 3% of our peacekeepers are women.

̶ Only 5 UN entities have achieved gender parity at the professional and higher levels. They are UNICEF; UNESCO; UNFPA; UN Women; and UNAIDS. 

Across the UN system, there is still an inverse relationship between seniority and women’s representation – the higher the grade, the larger the parity gap. Against the original deadline set by the Beijing Declaration, the UN is now 17 years behind on its due date for parity.

The good news on this is that there is real momentum at the highest level of the Organization to finally fix this. 

Upon taking office, our Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a commitment to reach parity at the senior leadership level by the end of 2021, and parity across the Organization by 2028.

This is a core element of the System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity, which he launched in September and which should really be understood as an operational imperative for each and every one in the Organization. 

His actions speak louder than words: of the 32 new appointments to the Senior Management Group, 17 were women. 

In Geneva, I am happy to be able to tell you that the overall female component of our staff at UNOG is 46%, and 43% for senior positions. 

Let me also say a few words about the International Gender Champions initiative. Launched right here in Geneva in 2015, the initiative is a network of decision-makers who lead by example through tangible actions that bring real change both in organizational culture and in programming.

They are role models to the next generation – after all, it’s hard to be what you can’t see. And they are changemakers. Every gender champion commits to three concrete measurable institutional actions in one year to advance gender equality

One common action which has changed the way we work here is to sign up to the Panel Parity Pledge. For me, this means that if I am meant to speak on a panel, and there is no woman speaking alongside me, I simply don’t participate. 

The other two commitments can be in the executive management of the organization or in its programmatic work. One of my commitments was to develop a gender policy at UNOG, and it was put in place and implemented last year

As we speak, over 200 champions – ambassadors, heads of international organizations, notably our Secretary General, leaders in academia, NGOs and the private sector – are actively working to fulfil their commitments in Geneva, New York, Vienna and other duty stations. This has already served as a catalyst not just for over 600 concrete commitments to achieve gender equality in different aspects of our work, but for a cultural shift towards a working environment that embraces equality, inclusivity, and diversity. We all have a long way to go, but at least we have made encouraging progress. 

I have said at the outset that gender equality is a necessary condition for a just, decent world and stable, resilient economies. 

In closing, allow me to share some thoughts on the third aspect – the fact that without gender equality, societies are less peaceful, and conflicts infinitely more difficult to resolve. 

At the core of the Agenda 2030 lies the commitment to “leave no one behind.” This does not mean anything if it does not mean addressing the vulnerability and exclusion of those experiencing unprecedented levels of humanitarian need, 75% of which are women and children.

Gender is an essential perspective to understand vulnerability in humanitarian emergency and conflict contexts. One in five female refugees experience sexual violence. They are exploited and trafficked as commodities. Extremist groups across the world build their ideologies around the subjugation of women and use horrendous accounts of rape and sexual slavery to attract recruits. 

We cannot talk about peace, justice, and security without addressing the deep roots of patriarchy and male dominance. 

Sexual violence, forced marriage, human trafficking and virtual enslavement – these are weapons of physical and psychological warfare in today’s world. 

Yet almost two decades since the landmark resolution 1325, less than 0.5% of humanitarian funding is directed towards gender-based violence support, and only 1.7% of humanitarian work is dedicated for targeted interventions for women and girls.

Whether in Northern Ireland, in Guatemala, or in Liberia: The past two decades have produced powerful evidence that women’s meaningful participation in peace processes increases the chance to achieve sustainable peace by at least 35% over 15 years. 

We need to shift the rhetoric from women as merely victims of armed conflict to women as critical participants in mediation efforts and as powerful trailblazers in finding pathways for peace.

The more you have women working at all levels and in all aspects of public life, the more resilient societies are to conflict. There’s a connection here. Successful prevention and women empowerment are codependent.

Linked specifically to SDG 5 and SDG 16, the formula is therefore something like this: Promoting gender equality and creating strong and just security institutions is a mutually reinforcing dynamic. Institutions that empower women are more just; and more just institutions empower women. It’s a two-way street or, simply put: it’s a win-win situation.

Finally, many of you will know that tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. But probably fewer will know that we will, with the help of Soroptimist International, quite literally “shine a light” on the issue by bathing the Palais in orange light. I encourage you all to see it for yourself and to join the campaign. 

Thank you very much for being here today and I wish you productive discussions.