Speech: This is your future, and you must have an opportunity to shape it
Remarks by UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous at the opening ceremony of the Women Deliver 2023 Conference, Kigali, Rwanda, 17 July 2023.
I thank you, President Kagame, and the Government and people of Rwanda, for your hospitality and the generous hosting in this beautiful country. It is an honour to be with you today on behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations—our feminist-in-chief—who sends you his very warmest regards.
I also thank Women Deliver for organizing this landmark event on gender equality. This is truly an invaluable meeting of remarkable people, an assembly of committed and fierce feminists. I am proud to be among you all. And it is wonderful that we gather this year for the first time in Africa, a beautiful and inspiring continent, truly.
We are here because we are committed to ensure that the women’s movement rises from strength to strength, in solidarity. Women Deliver is the largest community of feminists, of the women’s movement and its allies. It is, indeed, an unstoppable force.
We are here because we believe in the power and imperative of gender equality. We are here to celebrate and build on the women’s movement, to applaud those who have shattered glass ceilings, and to chart a path to shatter more and more.
Today we see pushback against gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights. It is potent and pervasive. We see regression on sexual and reproductive health rights, increased gender-based violence, and discrimination. We see deeply rooted misogyny.
In an era of poly-crises—including climate, conflict, and COVID recovery—that power and imperative of equality could not be more urgent. We know that a world with only one wing, that spurns the power of women’s leadership, can never rise to the challenges of these crises, and can never soar past them.
Our hopes and aspirations for a brighter, more sustainable, more equal, and more peaceful planet hang by a thread. As we look ahead to the SDG Summit this September and the Summit of the Future next year, we must do so with renewed commitment, determination, and energy.
We must continue to push forward.
We are already doing this, with inspiration from across the world. From Malala, who is with us here in Kigali—Malala continues to show us that even in the face of violence, girls do rise—to Zuhura, the African Lioness, who inspired us all just now with her creativity and voice.
We see it in the number of women in legislative positions that has doubled in a generation, in reduced global maternal mortality, and in women’s increased life expectancy. One hundred fifty-five countries now have laws on domestic violence. One hundred forty have legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace. These are all to be celebrated, and what a better place to celebrate them than here in Rwanda, a country ranked among the top 10 in the world for gender equality. Congratulations.
We will not wait the estimated 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws. We will not accept another day of ubiquitous violence against women or health inequality or child marriage. We will not accept the continued reprisals and intimidation against women’s human rights defenders. We will not accept that women are excluded from peace tables, climate negotiations, and decision-making spaces. We will not—and we cannot wait.
UN Women is honoured to be working alongside all of you—governments, civil society, grassroots movements, media professionals, journalists, the private sector, all youth organizations—in advancing towards progress. We do this through our policy work, through our programmes and advocacy, including Generation Equality, which offers a unique multi-stakeholder space to drive forward solutions and propel us towards our 2030 Goals. We do this by ensuring that we have the tools we need, essential data, gender statistics, and information. We do this by crushing biases, intentional and unconscious, including in new technologies. And we do this by making sure that we engage men and boys—especially boys—who grow up to become feminist men.
Colleagues, Africa is the continent with the youngest population in the world, which means it is a continent that holds the potential of the future we all want.
When I look out at this crowd, I see the power and the strength of unity. I see the power and the strength of youth movements, of adolescent girls, of young feminist leaders, of the grassroots movements and civil society. I see the power of the LGBTIQ+ community. It is you we must and will stand beside and behind.
This is your future, and you must have an opportunity to shape it.
As multilateral organizations, governments, the private sector, it is our duty and responsibility to create spaces for your voices to be heard, to share the power we are privileged to hold. And we will.
United, we are unstoppable.
Excellencies, friends, colleagues, feminists,
These are a precious three days. This is not only because of the inspiration and energy that we will share here. Being together, side by side, seeing close up the movement we are part of in its diversity and strength—these are gifts to cherish, and to cherish for long.
We are the ones who recognize what must be done, and in recognizing it, we commit ourselves to it. We are the ones who embrace the responsibility of change. We are the ones who devote our lives to breaking barriers, changing minds, reshaping systems and structures that exclude, that diminish, and that lessen.
It is what we, as women, men, feminists, every one of us, in all our diversity, have promised to deliver. And together, we will.