Photo: Adam da Cruz


  1. 1 December 2017

    Statement by UN Women Executive Director: Leaving no one out from health

    Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women for World AIDS Day, 1 December 2017

    Every four minutes, three young women become infected with HIV (UNAIDS Right to Health report, 2017). They are clearly not enjoying their right to health, nor will they, until we are able to reverse the inequalities and discrimination that fuel HIV spread. Those whose health and future are currently least prioritized must become our focus, if we are to achieve the changes we seek.

    Across communities and countries, imbalances in power relations, confining social norms and the prevalence of gender-based violence and discrimination are resulting in large gaps in both prevention of HIV for women and girls and treatment of it. This is especially true for marginalized groups, who often face high levels of stigma and discrimination, such as women with disabilities, sex workers, women who inject drugs and women in prison, with resulting increased difficulty in accessing health care, especially when more than one reason for discrimination applies. So, for example, pregnant women who inject drugs and are living with HIV face even greater difficulties in accessing services to prevent their infants from acquiring HIV infection than other women who are living with HIV (UNAIDS 2014).

    Women experiencing high levels of discrimination are also at high risk of violence, which again compounds the likelihood of infection (UNAIDS 2017). For example, data from sub-Saharan Africa suggest an increased risk of HIV infection among women with disabilities compared with those without disabilities (UNAIDS Disability and HIV, 2017).

    Several significant initiatives are under way that use knowledge of the drivers of risk and are building capacity to implement successful best practices.

    Urgent steps to ending discriminatory laws against those at risk of HIV and creating an empowering and just legal environment have resulted in an unprecedented call to put women and girls at the centre of the health system, with the Joint United Nations Statement on Ending Discrimination in Health Care Settings signed by UN Women and 11 partner agencies.

    The SASA! programme, which originated in Uganda has successfully used understanding of the connection between discrimination, violence and HIV infection to reverse the situation,  through local activism, advocacy and training that led to significantly lower community acceptance and experience of intimate-partner violence, including sexual violence (Abramsky 2014). The UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, managed by UN Women, has supported SASA! implementation in Kenya, Haiti and Tanzania.

    Leaving no woman or girl behind in the HIV response means ensuring their meaningful participation and engagement in designing that response, improving access to services and demanding their right to health. To do that, we foster women’s voices and leadership and support their place at decision-making tables. In 2016, UN Women supported networks of women living with HIV in 31 countries to increase their engagement in the national HIV responses.

    Similarly, we are building the leadership skills of adolescent girls and young women to engage in agenda-setting fora and national level discussions on ending AIDS, using digital technologies. For example, in Malawi, Uganda and Kenya our “Engagement + Empowerment = Equality” programme mobilized over 1,000 young women champions, including 250 girls living with HIV, in just nine months, using online and face-to-face mentoring, providing peer support and social media programmes reaching thousands of other young women. The voice and activism of youth is especially important when we consider that young women make up 74 per cent of new infections in eastern Africa and 91 per cent of the new infections in southern Africa among 15-19 year-olds (UNAIDS 2016).

    This World AIDS Day, UN Women calls for a commitment to prioritize and reach all the women and girls being left behind in the HIV response: every last woman and girl. Leaving no one behind means including everyone, without exception and without discrimination.

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  2. 16 November 2017

    Statement: A life without the threat of violence for everyone: leave no one behind

    Message by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November 2017

    The initial response to the outpouring of ‘#MeToo’ around the world has been of outrage at the scale of sexual abuse and violence revealed. The millions of people joining the hashtag tide showed us how little they were heard before. They poured through the floodgate, opening up conversations, naming names and bolstering the frailty of individual statements with the robustness of a movement.

    This virtual class action has brought strength to those whose stories would otherwise have not been told. Sexual violence in private almost always ends up as one person’s word against another, if that word is ever spoken. Even sexual violence in public has been impossible to call out when society does not view rape as a male crime but as a woman’s failing, and views that woman as dispensable.

    We are seeing the ugly face of violence brought out into the light: the abuses of power that repress reporting and diminish the facts, and that exclude or crush opposition. These acts of power draw from the same roots, whether they concern the murder of a woman human rights defender standing up against big business interests in the Amazon basin, a young refugee girl forced to have sex for food or supplies, or a small business employee in London forced out of her job for being ‘difficult’, after reporting the sexual misconduct of her supervisor. In each case, and over and over, these acts of abuse have stemmed from a confidence that there will be no significant reprisal, no law invoked, no calling to account.

    But everyone has the right to live their life without the threat of violence. This holds for all people, no matter what their gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity or caste, and irrespective of their income level, sexual orientation, HIV status, citizenship, where they live, or any other characteristic of their identity.

    Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. There are many ways to prevent violence in the first place and to stop cycles of violence repeating.

    As a society, we can support the passing and implementation of laws to protect girls and women from child marriage, FGM, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and we can agitate for their impact to be properly monitored and evaluated.

    The provision of essential services for survivors of violence must be comprehensive, multi-sectoral, non-judgmental, of good quality and accessible to everyone, with no exceptions. These services are the frontline of response to those whose lives have just been ruptured; they must have the survivor’s dignity and safety as central concerns.

    Prevention of violence must begin early. The education system and teachers themselves are at the forefront of children and young people learning to carry forward the principles of equality, respect and non-violence for future generations. This takes appropriate curricula and role model behaviour.

    What #MeToo has shown clearly is that everyone has a part to play in changing our society for the better. We must speak out against harassment and violence in our homes, workplaces, in our institutions, social settings and through our media. #MeToo has also shown us that no one is immune. All institutions need to be aware of the potential for violence to occur among their staff. With that knowledge, we must take steps to prevent it, and at the same time be well prepared to respond appropriately.

    In this broad effort to end violence against women and girls, we see men as playing a vital role in bringing change. Challenging sexism, male dominance and male privilege as society’s norm starts with modeling positive masculinities. Parents can instill principles of equality, rights and respect as they raise their sons; and men can call out their peers for the behaviours that are now being understood as the unacceptable tip of the harassment iceberg.

    At the heart of today’s theme of ‘leaving no one behind’, is leaving no one out. This means bringing women and girls as equals into everything that concerns them, and planning solutions to end violence with those who have been previously dismissed, sidelined or excluded.

    As a global community, we can act now to end violence against women and girls, to change institutions and work together to end discrimination, restore human rights and dignity, and leave no one behind.

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  3. 10 October 2017

    UN Women statement: International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October

    “Some people say that it is shameful for girls to go to work or go to school. These are old traditions and conventions.” These are the words of Alan and Israa, two Syrian girls who, through a UN Women-supported training and community centre in Beirut, Lebanon, are learning how to repair mobile phones. This training is helping to break down traditional ideas about what girls can and cannot do, and through giving them relevant skills for their future, it is building resilience and helping to break conventional isolation.

    This year, on the International Day of the Girl Child, we are focused on how to ‘EmPOWER Girls: Before, during and after crises’. Throughout 2017 we have seen growing conflict, instability and inequality, with 128.6 million people this year expected to need humanitarian assistance due to security threats, climate change and poverty. More than three-quarters of those who have become refugees or who are displaced from their homes, are women and children [1]. Among these, women and girls are among the most vulnerable in times of crisis.

    Displaced and vulnerable women and girls face higher risks of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as damage to their livelihoods [2]; girls are 2.5 times more likely than boys to miss school during disasters [3]; and displaced girls are often married off as children in an effort to ensure their security. A 2013 assessment estimated a rise in the percentage of Syrian girl refugees in Jordan being married before age 18 from below 17 per cent before the conflict, to more than 50 per cent afterwards.

    At UN Women, we are working to ensure that girls experiencing crises have positive options that allow them to grow and develop social and economic skills. Along with local women’s organizations, we support women and girl refugees through our Global Flagship Initiative, on Women’s Leadership, Empowerment, Access and Protection in Crisis Response (LEAP) [4], which boosts civic engagement and leadership by advocating for women’s political and social participation at the local, national and international levels. LEAP also establishes Empowerment Hubs where women can network and access critical services and training, and provides job placements, cash-for-work initiatives and training for businesses.

    Programmes like these can turn situations of displacement into opportunities for empowerment for girls and young women, remove them from potentially violent situations, and serve as a path to economic security so that they are not forced to marry older men to provide for their physical and financial wellbeing.

    As Alan and Israa experienced, UN Women is also tapping into the possibilities of mobile technology, developing a Virtual Skills School, so that women and girls who have dropped out of school due to early marriage, childbearing or traditional practices, who are living with a disability, or who are displaced from their homes and in refugee camps, have access to second-chance learning.

    On the International Day of the Girl Child, let us commit to investing in skills training and education for girls and livelihood activities for young women around the world who are facing crises. Far from being passive recipients of assistance, these girls are leaders who will use the skills that they develop today to rebuild their communities, and create a better future for all of us.


    [1] “Protecting Women in in Emergency Situations,” UNFPA.

    [2] “Women and girls in forced and protracted displacement,” GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report, September 5, 2016,


    [4] “Humanitarian Action,” UN Women,

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  4. 22 September 2017

    Business and Philanthropy Leaders Scale up Engagement in Innovative Initiatives for Women’s Empowerment

    UN Women and corporate leaders join forces to advance gender equality as an enabler and accelerator to address global challenges

    (New York) In a high-level event organized by UN Women in the context of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, Melinda Gates, Co-Chair and Trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Jack Ma, Executive Chair of the Alibaba Group and Nirvana Chaudhary, President of the Chaudhary Group and Chair of the Foundation and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women for a strategic conversation on how collective action can scale-up opportunities for women and girls.

    Today’s dialogue among a select group of business and foundation leaders focused on the transformative role that companies and foundations can play to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5 on gender equality. It highlighted new initiatives, such as the Unstereotype Alliance convened by UN Women with major advertisers and communications industry leaders to promote a more realistic and aspirational portrayal of women;  the “Making Every Woman and Girl Count” initiative to generate, prioritize and use gender data for evidence-based and targeted policies; and the Global Innovation Coalition for Change aiming to make innovation work for women’s empowerment.

    Participants at the event agreed that gender equality is a force to enable and accelerate achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that empowering women is central to addressing the 21st century’s global challenges such as poverty, inequality, and violence. Yet, deep financing gaps for women and girls pose significant barriers and deter progress.

    “We are very clear that the private and philanthropic sectors are essential partners for our work as we move forward with implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Their support is fundamental to UN Women endeavours, including building the Women’s Empowerment Principles, calling for and leading the investment in gender data analysis, eliminating gender stereotypes in advertising, and boosting ways in which innovation and technology can work better for women and girls,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director. “This is everyone’s business, and I call on both current and potential partners to join this movement to drive the transformative changes needed,” she added.

    Financial commitments made at the event will support UN Women’s efforts towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by expanding women’s economic opportunities, promoting innovation, developing effective gender data metrics, addressing regressive norms and stereotypes and improving safety for women and girls globally.

    “We have learned from our partners that if we don’t look at the gender piece of our work, we will never achieve our goals and lift people up,” said Melinda Gates. “We have a lot of anecdotal evidence about women in terms of their lives and livelihoods, and now, we are finally doing the research and gathering data to inform policies and programmes. Gender matters. If we are serious about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we have to invest in gender data. It is at the heart of what we do.”

    “The importance of women and girl child equality and livelihood is ever more important in this world. Chaudhary Foundation has 40 plus initiatives addressing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals with focus on women and children at its centre-stage. We are excited about embarking in to gender data work in Nepal in partnership with UN Women,” shared Nirvana Chaudhary, Chair of Chaudhary Group Foundation.

    Global business and philanthropy leaders pledging support to deliver on gender equality at today’s event included: Melinda Gates, Co-Chair and Trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Jack Ma, Executive Chair of the Alibaba Group; Nirvana Chaudhary, Chair President of the Chaudhary Group and Chair of the Foundation; Her Royal Highness Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al Saud, Secretary-General of Alwaleed Philanthropies; Carolyn Tastad, Group President of Procter & Gamble North America; Wang Guangfa, Chairman of the Board and President of Beijing Fazheng Group; Andrea d’Avack, President of Chanel Foundation; Keith Weed, Unilever ‎Chief Marketing and Communications Officer; Deepak Premnarayen, Executive Chairman and founder of ICS Group; José Caetano, People Management Director of Banco Di  Brazil; Kofi Appenberg, Chair of the Ford Foundation Board of Trustees; Anka Wittenberg, SAP Diversity & Inclusion Officer; and Elfrun von Koeller, Partner and Managing Director at The Boston Consulting Group; among others.

    The Unstereotype Alliance and the Global Innovation Coalition for Change were represented by companies such as Alibaba, ANA, AT&T, Citi, Facebook, General Electric, Google, IPG, Mars, Microsoft, Publicis, P&G, SAP and Unilever.

    Follow the hashtag #Planet5050 and @UN_Women on Twitter for updates. Watch the forum on Facebook Live:

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