Speech: ‘Be the light that brings hope and that accelerates progress towards an equal, sustainable, and peaceful future’

Palabras de apertura pronunciadas por la Directora Ejecutiva de ONU Mujeres, Sima Bahous, en la conmemoración oficial de la ONU del Día Internacional de la Mujer, 8 de marzo de 2024, sede de la ONU.


UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous delivers opening remarks at the UN official commemoration of International Women’s Day, 8 March 2024, UN headquarters. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown.

[As delivered.]

I will begin on this International Women’s Day with a moment of reflection for all the women and girls killed in wars and conflicts that are not of their making.

Wars and conflicts are eroding the achievements of decades of investments in gender equality and women’s empowerment. From the Middle East, to Haiti, to Sudan, Myanmar, the Sahel, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the world, women pay the biggest price of conflicts.

Conflict is inherently violent, but for women and girls ever more so, including in sexual and gender-based ways. This is intolerable. No woman or girl anywhere, ever, should experience sexual violence or any form of violence. UN Women, alongside everyone here, condemns it unequivocally.

The need for peace has never been more urgent. We salute women everywhere who strive to bring peace every day, who are human rights activists, who are human rights defenders, who lead and fight for change.

This year’s International Women’s Day sees a world hobbled by confrontation, fragmentation, fear, and, most of all, inequality.

Persistent poverty gaps continue to exist worldwide, and women bear an increasingly heavy burden. One in every ten women in the world lives in extreme poverty. Poverty has a female face.

Men own 105 trillion dollars [USD] more wealth than women. They dominate the corridors of power.

And the pushback against gender equality is well resourced and powerful, fuelled by anti-gender movements, de-democratization, restricted civic space, a breakdown of trust between people and state, and regressive policies and legislation.

We all feel this pushback acutely. Our values and principles have never been as challenged as they are today.

I thank all of you for lending your energies to this struggle, to the cause of women’s rights and gender equality, and I thank you all for joining us in pushing forward against the pushback.

This year’s International Women’s Day calls us all to invest in women and girls and to accelerate progress.

It is only by investing in women and girls that we will meet the challenges we face, be they economic-, conflict- or climate-related.

Investing in women and girls is indisputably the best pathway to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, to peace and security.

When more women are economically empowered, economies grow.

Where women are equally represented in government, governance thrives.

Where women are free to live their lives without the perpetual threat of violence, families flourish, and businesses benefit.

Where women have a bigger say in peace processes, peace is found sooner and is more durable.

But in spite of these clear facts, we continue to stubbornly invest in weapons more than we invest in women and girls.

We continue to say gender equality can be postponed for “later”, as we watch the world fall further off track, and even “later” is postponed.

In the coming months and year, we have a collective opportunity to recommit ourselves to gender equality. The Summit of the Future presents an opportunity to centrally place gender equality across discussions on development, financing, technology, and peace and security. The thirtieth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action next year has the potential to be a watershed moment for increased and accelerated action to make truth of the promises made 29 years ago. I welcome the Secretary-General’s announcement of the Gender Equality Acceleration Plan. Please count on UN Women as your partners in this.

The International Women’s Day this year has a call. And this call is clear and compelling. For every woman and girl, we ask that we finally make the best investment we can: financing gender equality and unlocking its dividends for all. More than 100 million women and girls could be lifted out of poverty if governments prioritized education, healthcare, fair and equal wages, and expanded social benefits. We know that when women raise their voices it is for equality, for their rights and for the rights of others, for peace and justice for all. They fight to leave a better world behind them for all the people and for our shared planet.

On International Women’s Day we elevate their voice. We elevate their cause, and our cause. We commit to affording it the resources it deserves and demands.

Allow me before I end to echo the call of the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly, the Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women: We need a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza now. More than 9000 women have been killed in Gaza, and this must stop. We cannot return to a path to peace without justice for all survivors of this conflict—and I say all survivors of this conflict—and without an end to the indiscriminate violence in Gaza.

I began my remarks today with a moment of reflection. I end my remarks with a call for all of us to be the light that brings hope and that accelerates progress towards an equal, sustainable, and peaceful future. For all people. For every woman and for every girl, everywhere. I know that together, it is within our reach.

I thank you.