Statement for International Women’s Day 2018 by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women

Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives

This year’s theme captures the vibrant life of the women activists whose passion and
commitment have won women’s rights over the generations, and successfully brought change.
We celebrate an unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality, safety and
justice, recognizing the tireless work of activists who have been central to this global push for
gender equality.

What we see today is a remarkable gathering of strength among women all over the world,
demonstrating the power of speaking with one voice, as they call for opportunity and
accountability, drawing momentum from grassroots networks and coalitions that stretch right
up to government leadership. These movements grow from the work of multigenerational
activists—from the late feminist human rights leader Asma Jahangir of Pakistan, to the
powerful new generation represented by young women like Jaha Dukureh of The Gambia, UN
Women’s Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Africa on ending FGM and child marriage.
Healthy societies have a wide mix of voices and influences that provide the checks and
balances, the differing threads of experience and perspectives, and the debate that shapes
good decision-making. Where voices are missing, there is an important gap in the fabric of
society. When those quietened voices count in the millions, we know there is something wrong
with our world. Similarly, as we see and hear those voices rise in strength and solidarity, we feel
the power of something right.
We salute those who have bravely spoken out to gain access to justice, such as those from the
#MeToo movement, who in recent months have found their voice in social media in more than
85 countries to expose those who have preyed on the less powerful and shown how when
women support one another, they help to overcome stigma and ensure that their stories are
We commend the women who spoke out in the International Criminal Court where their
testimonies have held to account those who used rape as a weapon of war. We celebrate and
we recognize those who advocated for legal reform in countries such as Tunisia, to end a
provision that allowed rapists to escape persecution if they married their victims. We
acknowledge those who have taken to the streets in India to decry the murder and rape of
young children, turning protests into broader-based movements that engage entire
communities. We honour the indigenous leaders who have stood up for their custodial rights to
land and traditional practices, and the human rights defenders who have even lost their lives
for their cause.
The feminist movement must continue to increase the diversity and the number of people
working on gender equality, bringing in individuals and groups—such as men and boys, young
people and faith-based organizations—to support and shape the agenda, so young men and
boys learn to value and respect women and girls and so men can change the way they behave.
Today’s activism needs to alter the way we listen to women and the way we look at them,
recognizing the power of stereotypes to influence how we value people. A movement of
women that can address these issues is critical, but we also need a movement of male
This has to be a tipping point; an end to impunity and the silent suffering of women in rural and
urban areas, including women domestic workers. Today’s activists must empower those most
likely to be left behind, the majority of whom are women, as our latest report, Turning
Promises into Action reveals. Across all regions, women are more likely to live in extreme
poverty than men. This gender gap is as high as 22 per cent for the 25 – 34 age group—
women’s peak reproductive years, starkly highlighting the dilemma so many face of reconciling
income with care—for which policy change and action is so needed.
UN Women has a special relationship with the women’s movement; we arose from that
activism. Civil society has had a historically crucial role in leading global action on gender
equality by promoting reform, highlighting the complexities of the challenges facing women,
influencing policies, participating in monitoring, and upholding accountability. We must
deliberately create stronger support for women’s political activism and a broader space for
women’s civil society voices so that our efforts combine to target those who truly need change
most. The culture of gender-based poverty, abuse and exploitation has to end with a new
generation of equality that lasts.

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