Opening remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at opening of the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico

Standing with women everywhere, united in calling for change, working together in an era of unity and smart, targeted and financed action


I thank the Government of Mexico for hosting the Generation Equality Forum that starts today in this beautiful and vibrant City of Mexico. It is highly anticipated by women. It is so meaningful to be here, in the same city that hosted the first Women’s World Conference in 1975. We also thank the Government of France for receiving the torch and taking forward the work that will emerge from this Forum by Member States, by young people, by civil society, by corporations, by philanthropists, by the United Nations, all together, for the first time.

The Generation Equality Forum was born out of an urgent hunger for change for women and girls across the globe, sharpened by the ongoing crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now 26 years since the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. We have seen that over those years there has been some progress but overall there has been public rhetoric on gender equality that has not been matched either by action or by financing. Progress has been slow and uneven. That was even before COVID-19 forced massive job losses for women, plunging 47 million more women into extreme poverty, and precipitating a ‘shadow pandemic’ of all forms of violence against women around the world. We stand with the women who are violated and who are affected by violence. We stand with the women of all ages, wherever they are, where they are calling for action to stop the violence. We stand with the women in Mexico. We stand with the women everywhere. We are united in calling for change and we will work together.

Before the pandemic, 16 per cent of young women aged 15-24 were experiencing sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner each year across the world. And 19 per cent of girls were married before the age of 18. Women did three times more work in unpaid care. Women’s labour force participation has been stagnant and unmoving for 30 years. Eleven million more girls may be out of school after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Generation Equality offers a critical opportunity to confront this rising crisis, as well as the enduring structural inequalities that preceded it. It is going to be now in Mexico that we start this work; start an era of catalytic action to accelerate change.

We stand on the shoulders of feminists of all ages who want change. We want to end the phenomenon of bystanders. Everyone has to be involved. They are mobilizing in person in the streets. They are mobilizing in millions online, and everywhere, they are raising their voices in the effort to achieve equality, justice and peace. And this fierce tide of activism is what has brought us today in this forum for Generation Equality. It draws energy from the belief that collaboration, solidarity and intersectional feminism will finally bring about the change we need to see for women and girls being represented everywhere. The blueprints of the Action Coalitions that will be launched at the Forum over the coming days lay out the path for us to create lasting change and transformative change.

This will be activists side-by-side with governments, corporations, international organizations and philanthropists designing and shaping a bold agenda for accelerated action on women’s rights. And these will come with concrete actions and a plan that will be implemented with investments, with accountability and with time frames. We also will be implementing everywhere, locally and nationally. This is not just a global agenda.

We want to look to the future beyond the crisis, rather than doubling down on the mistakes of the past. We want an opportunity to build a new, feminist economic model that works for women, and a world that is safe for women. Such economic models prioritize both care for people, and care for our planet.

The vibrant discussions and concrete plans for action that begin here in Mexico City will shape our journey and will give us the final commitments that will be announced in Paris in June, and help to catalyse a decade of rapid advances.

This is now an era of unity and action. The Forum will help us to turn the promise of the Beijing Platform for Action into a lived global reality, through smart, targeted and financed action.

I end with an African proverb, as I call for the entrenchment of human rights and the removal of barriers. The proverb says: “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. Generation Equality will “go together”. Generation Equality also wants to move fast, and we will be propelled by young people and all of you to go fast, as we go far.

Thank you very much.