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Gender Equality Will Remain Elusive So Long as Harmful Stereotypes Persist, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Fireside Chat #ChooseToChallenge Event

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as delivered, at the fireside chat #ChooseToChallenge — Calling out Gender Bias and Inequity and Celebrating Women’s Achievement, today:

It is a pleasure to be with you all this evening.

Over the last 12 months, every one of us has been grappling with the realities of living during a global pandemic.  As parents, teachers and learners, you have felt the challenges particularly acutely.  So allow me to begin by commending you all for making it this far and by encouraging you to both keep going and keep looking out for each other.  We are not out of the woods yet but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Tonight’s topic could not be more relevant, particularly as we look around at the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on women and girls.  As an African and Muslim woman of colour, a mother of six, a grandmother of two, and the Deputy Secretary-General of a multilateral organization that has equality in its life blood, forging a gender equal world is something that I feel particularly strongly about and I am committed to.

As we entered 2020, we were in fact getting ready to take stock of the progress that had been made on women’s rights.  The increased number of girls securing an education at the same rate as boys.  Lower maternal mortality rates.  More women in parliaments and the labour force.  Granted these gains have been too few and too slow, but it was progress we could build on.

And yet when this pandemic hit, it was women who quickly paid the highest price — with higher unemployment, less economic resources, and experiencing horrific levels of violence.  The pandemic exacerbated already existing inequalities, reinforced by stereotypes and biases.  From my experience, damaging stereotypes relating to the roles of women and men affect so many aspects of our lives.

We see it in attitudes that directly or indirectly limit the horizons and opportunities of women and girls to areas traditionally seen to be their domain.  We see it in laws and policies that fail to ensure accountability for gender-based violence against women — whether at home, in the workplace or indeed online.

We see it in the disproportionate share of unpaid care work that is carried out by women and girls and the accompanying failure of our economic models to value and provide policies that mitigate the impact of this work on women, their health, education and income solely because it is undertaken by women.

We see it also in the pressures on boys and men to feel a certain way, only express certain feelings, or take on certain roles, placing pressure to adhere to damaging stereotypes.  And we see it in the culture of political institutions or major economic sectors where women are poorly represented or paid less than their male counterparts.

At the core of all of these manifestations of bias and inequity is a question of patriarchy — a system that places power in all spheres in the hands of men.  And until that power is shared more equally and harmful stereotypes are no more, the quest for gender equality will remain elusive.

In recent years, here in the United States and elsewhere, we have witnessed the emergence of movements that are directly challenging persistent centuries-old racial and gender injustice.  Every generation must take on the baton of justice and in the past few years we have seen today’s generation of young people do just that.

Young people are resisting, protesting, innovating, campaigning and claiming their space.  They demand climate justice, push for decent jobs; fight against homophobia and advocate for gender and racial equality.  And it gives me great encouragement to see that young women and girls are often at the forefront.

But in truth, this is an intergenerational opportunity.  And no matter where you are from, what colour your skin is, where you worship or what gender you identify with, we can all #ChooseToChallenge gender bias and inequity when we see it, refuse to be bystanders to discrimination and work together for a better and more equal world.

The United Nations is determined to support all who take this path.  Our youth strategy, Youth 2030, is a commitment to build the capacity and advance the rights of young people.  And this year’s Generation Equality Forum will be an important step on this path, providing an opportunity to tackle the most pressing obstacles to gender equality.

It is clear that young people want the sustainable, equal and peaceful world envisioned in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  So let’s all do whatever we can to accompany them, support them and facilitate them.

And I have to say that it thrills me that tonight this conversation will be moderated by two dynamic young women leaders.  Their work as part of the student-led Equity and Inclusion Board embodies what this year’s International Women’s Day theme is all about.  Rokhaya and Sophie and their fellow students of the Board saw a need and chose to challenge by creating this initiative in order to raise awareness and take action for equality.  I would like to celebrate their impressive achievements thus far and I know that this is only the beginning.  I am sure you would agree that we are in safe hands.  And I don’t just mean for this evening.


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