Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women

Date: Friday, September 4, 2020

Exactly 25 years after the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, its significance is undimmed. In that quarter century we have seen the strength and impact of collective activism grow and have been reminded of the importance of multilateralism and partnership to find common solutions to shared problems.

Back in 1995, the deliberations of the Conference resulted in the framing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: a bold agenda for the change needed to realize the human rights of women and girls, articulated across 12 critical areas of concern. The Platform for Action provided a blueprint for the advancement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, adopted by 189 UN Member States and universally referenced.

The continued relevance of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action cannot be overstated today. The far-reaching social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the significant increases in violence against women, threaten to reverse many of the hard-won advances made in the last 25 years to empower women and girls. At the same time, the outstanding value of women’s leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic is in plain sight, along with the recognition of just how much women’s work and women’s movements have sustained the world, from domestic life, the fight for human rights, to national economies. 

We also know that by next year, 435 million women and girls are likely to have been reduced to extreme poverty. Governments, local administrations, businesses and enterprises of all sorts must not let this happen. To tackle persistent systemic barriers to equality, we need transformative approaches and new alliances that engage the private sector alongside governments and civil society. This is a re-set moment. The economic and policy lifeboats for our struggling world must put women and children first.

The political will of leaders can make the difference. World leaders convening at this year’s United Nations General Assembly have the opportunity to use their power in action to accelerate the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and to support the role of civil society organizations and youth. Our humanitarian responses to COVID-19, our economic stimulus packages, our reinventions of working life and our efforts to create solidarity across social and physical distance – these are all chances to build back better for women and girls.

For success, we need to work together on these transformative actions. In 2019, we launched a global campaign called Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future, with a call for renewed commitment by governments in partnership with civil society, academia and the private sector. It included clear timelines, responsibilities and resources towards realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious long-term framework that included goals to achieve universal gender equality.

On October 1, 2020, when a High-Level Meeting on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action is convened by the President of the General Assembly, Member States can put into action their commitment toward a more gender-equal world. On this important anniversary, let us reaffirm the promises the world made to women and girls in 1995. Let us draw on the activist spirit of the Beijing Conference and commit to forging new alliances across generations and sectors to ensure we seize this opportunity for deep, systemic change for women and for the world.